Florida Cabinet approves 42,409 Acres in effort to accelerate the pace of conservation.
The Florida Cabinet has unanimously approved the protection of six (6) properties totaling 42,409 acres of wilderness and working lands within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Today’s approvals underscore the unwavering commitment of our state leadership to protect Florida’s natural environment for generations to come.
“We appreciate Governor DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet for their unwavering support to preserve our landscapes and native habitats,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “Land conservation is critical to the protection of our natural landscapes and water resources which are integral for healthy ecosystems and wildlife, outdoor public recreation, and water supply.”
All the properties approved for acquisition or conservation easement during the September 18 Cabinet meeting were made possible through collaboration from public and private funds, such as Trust for Public Lands, Tall Timbers, Florida Conservation Group, Archbold Biological Station, and Keith Fountain Law, and through the state’s Rural and Family Lands Protection and the Florida Forever Programs. By working together, these groups have ensured the protection of critical habitats within ecologically vital regions.
“The Corridor Foundation deeply appreciates the visionary leadership of FDEP and FDACS that has stood alongside all of the partners working to permanently protect and connect the Florida Wildlife Corridor,” said Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation CEO Mallory Dimmitt. “Their continued support amplifies our collective efforts and while we celebrate these achievements, we also acknowledge that the work is far from over and it will take continued collaboration, increased funding, and an accelerated pace of projects to meet the ever pressing need to keep the Corridor Connected.”
Most of the lands are working agricultural lands that provide habitat and connectivity for key species including the indigo snake, Florida black bear, Florida panther, and Snail Kite and more. These protected lands fall within Jefferson, Leon, Santa Rosa, Hendry, Collier, Osceola, and Highlands counties.
The parcels in the Florida Wildlife Corridor approved during the September Cabinet meeting include:
A conservation easement over approximately 4,808 acres within the Red Hills Conservation Florida Forever project from Gem Land Company. In partnership with Tall Timbers, the property, known as Cherokee Plantation, includes lands in four plantations in Jefferson and Leon counties and is located within the Red Hills region. This area contributes to maintenance of surface wetlands and groundwater recharge functions, provides for wildlife habitat, sustainable forestry, and wildlife corridors. More than half of Foshalee Slough lies within the northern border of Cherokee Plantation and is essential to Lake Iamonia and the Ochlocknee River due to its ability to hold overflow during flooding events. This is the second plantation owned by Gem Land Company to be placed under a conservation easement within the Red Hills Conservation Florida Forever project and it lies within the Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape.
Acquisition of 1,546 acres within the Wolfe Creek Forest Florida Forever project from The Trust for Public Land. Part of a large-phased-landscape acquisition partnership between the Department of Environmental Protection (Department), the Navy, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Forest Legacy Program, Santa Rosa County, and donations from charitable foundations. This property provides an important additional buffering to Naval Air Station Whiting Field as well as increased public access to the Blackwater River State Forest, which offers a variety of recreational opportunities. It also has 12 archaeological sites, two of which are historic, including the Wolfe Creek Mill, and ten are prehistoric.
Acquisition of 5,454 acres within the Natural Bridge Timberlands Florida Forever project from American Land and AG Holdings, LLC. In partnership with Florida Conservation Group, the project will contribute to the completion of an expansive corridor of public conservation lands that promote ecological connectivity, conserve valuable habitat for rare plant and animal species, and protect sensitive cultural resources. The project will protect the water quality and quantity of the St. Marks River and the associated natural springs and karst features found within the Upper St. Marks River Basin. The project will also allow for the expansion of public resource-based recreational opportunities and support the continuation of sustainably managed silviculture practices.
Acquisition of approximately 17,229 acres within the Devil’s Garden Florida Forever project from Alico, Inc. Named after a wetland slough in the eastern portion of the overall project, the property is comprised of a mosaic of natural lands used primarily for cattle grazing. The connectivity of uplands and wetlands, draining both to the north and south, are important to protecting the State’s water resources. Additionally, the natural systems of Fakahatchee Strand and Big Cypress National Preserve are dependent on the water supplied from this area, and a majority of the Devil’s Garden Florida Forever project lies within the Western Everglades Restoration project planning boundary. The landscape connection with other conservation lands, including federal ownership, ensures longevity for a wide range of species, including the Florida panther, and provides opportunities for wetland and watershed protections.
A conservation easement over approximately 8,881.74 acres within the Adams Ranch project of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) from Adams Ranch, Inc. There have been three previous purchases for this project and with this addition, 60% of the property is now protected. Founded in 1937, the entire project is part of the original Adams Ranch, which is a fourth-generation cattle operation, headquartered in Ft. Pierce with operating holdings in Osceola, Okeechobee, St. Lucie, and Madison counties. As developers of the Braford breed of cattle, the Adams Ranch holdings are one of the top producing cow-calf ranches in the United States.
A conservation easement over approximately 4,490 acres within the Buck Island Ranch project of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) in partnership with Archbold Biological Station and Keith Fountain Law. Buck Island Ranch is among the top cattle producers in Florida, producing more than 2,100 calves annually. In addition to cattle operations, the Ranch offers internships for college students involved in ecological studies. Buck Island partners with major universities, state and federal agencies, producers and environmental groups to provide a better understanding of the ecological, economic and cultural value of Florida’s cattle ranches. Within its footprint includes 371 native plants and 171 documented bird species and provides habitat for several listed animal species, indigo snake, Florida black bear, Florida panther, and Snail Kite.
To help understand the importance of these land parcels and visualize the land, Wildpath has developed a media kit with photos, video footage, and maps representing the newly approved properties. Please feel free to download and use these materials.
Quotes from partners
“Florida Forever’s purchase of the Natural Bridge Timberlands is a tremendous opportunity to protect a large natural and working landscape adjacent to one of Florida’s development growth centers that will provide ecosystem services, biodiversity, storm protection, and resource-based recreational opportunities in the Tallahassee region.”
Director, Florida Conservation Group
“Tall Timbers greatly appreciates the Florida Cabinet and DEP for their commitment to protecting the Red Hills region of North Florida. The Cherokee conservation easement provides a critical connection to existing conservation lands and protects amazing pine savannas managed with prescribed fire, cypress-dominated wetlands, and working forestlands. Thanks to the conservation ethic of private landowners and the collective efforts of many partners, we are ensuring the sustainability of wildlife, water, and our way of life in the Red Hills for generations to come.”
Land Conservancy Director, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy
“Longleaf pine forests are one of the most threatened and ecologically diverse ecosystems in the world, and conserving this landscape not only protects critical habitat to numerous federally and state protected plant and animal species but offers public access to recreational opportunities as part of the State Forest. Seeing such support from the Florida Cabinet for the Florida Forever program along with the strategic collaboration with many public and private partners is encouraging for the future of this incredible ecosystem benefiting Floridians for years to come.”
Southeast Regional Conservation Director, Trust for Public Land
“Archbold congratulates DEP and the Florida Forever program on the nearly 30,000 acres of land permanently added to Florida’s conservation future today. The announced properties span from the great timberlands of north Florida to the Everglades ecosystem in the south, with critical rare species’ habitats and water resources receiving long-term conservation. Moreover, all the properties are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor and contribute to the shared goal of connecting wildlife habitats statewide.”
Joshua Daskin, Ph.D., Director of Conservation, Archbold Biological Station
“Audubon celebrates these important conservation land acquisitions and the progress they represent. In the last few years, the Governor and Legislature have made a commitment to landscape-scale conservation with substantial, consistent funding. The result has been the Trustees’ ability to pick up the pace, delivering more high-quality acquisitions like these, quickly and transparently, protecting the places essential to Florida’s water, wildlife, and resiliency. Leadership like this on behalf of our natural resources is essential to Floridians’ well-being and prosperity.”
Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director, Audubon Florida