This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved seven Florida Forever land acquisitions and conservation easements that will protect Florida’s natural environments in Hardee, Hendry, Indian River, Leon, Okeechobee and Santa Rosa Counties.
The properties approved on Tuesday, totaling almost 20,000 acres, will be managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS). Six of the seven projects, totaling 19,739 acres, are within the newly designated Florida Wildlife Corridor.
“Land conservation is an essential tool for environmental protection,” said DeSantis. “I thank the Florida Cabinet for their support in approving these critical land acquisitions and conservation easements which will conserve Florida’s wide array of natural lands, protect our wildlife, and provide recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.”
“Through partnerships, the Florida Forever program will continue to provide citizens and visitors alike a sanctuary for enjoying the natural beauty Florida has to offer,” said DEP Sec. Shawn Hamilton. “With today’s approvals, these parcels will be conserved into perpetuity – protected for generations to come. I thank Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet for supporting our conservation efforts.”
“I thank Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet for their leadership in protecting the Florida Wildlife Corridor,” said Carlton Ward, Jr., a National Geographic Explorer and founder of the Path of the Panther project. “Because of their leadership, there are now nearly 20,000 new acres of wildlands, wetlands, ranches, and forests that will always endure to support Florida’s wildlife and people.”
“This impressive slate of projects spans the state from Pensacola to Naples, protecting habitat and wildlife, as well as our water and climate,” said Julie Wraithmell, the executive director of Audubon Florida. “Audubon is especially excited to celebrate several projects in the Northern Everglades; land conservation north of Lake Okeechobee helps protect the water that flows into the big lake, its estuaries, and eventually Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. In this way, local projects add up to far-reaching benefits for millions of Floridians.”
The first approved parcel is 1,638 acres within the Devil’s Garden Florida Forever project in Hendry County, with FWC as the managing agency. Both parcels share their boundaries with the Okaloacoochee Slough Wildlife Management Area and State Forest and will serve as a primary and secondary zone for the federally endangered Florida panther. Increasing the conservation land footprint, stretching from the Caloosahatchee River to Big Cypress National Wildlife Preserve, provides habitat critical to panther recovery and their long-term survival. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The second approved parcel is 2,115 acres within the Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest Florida Forever project in Santa Rosa county. DACS – Florida Forest Service will manage the tract as an addition to Blackwater River State Forest. The land will also act as a buffer to Whiting Field NAS buffering the installation from encroachments that might be incompatible with the military mission of that installation. This project will preserve forest lands and return them to more natural stands of pine and accompanying understory habitat for flora and fauna and provide resource protection for the Escambia River watershed. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The third approved parcel is 4,381 acres within the Corrigan Ranch Florida Forever project in Okeechobee County. DEP Division of Recreation and Parks will be the land manager. The Corrigan Ranch project is in the Northern Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge Conservation Partnership Area. It will provide additional resource-based public recreation opportunities such as assisting with the completion of the Florida National Scenic Trail and expand the acreage of the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, which is the state’s first Dark Sky Park recognized by the International Dark Sky Association. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
DeSantis and the Cabinet agreed to acquire a conservation easement over 6,665 acres within the Kissimmee-St. Johns River Florida Forever project in Indian River and Okeechobee Counties. This property features habitat important for the Florida grasshopper sparrow, sandhill crane, mottled duck, wood stork, crested caracara, and other imperiled wildlife species. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This conservation easement will be monitored by DEP’s Office of Environmental Services.
The second conservation easement is over 1,661 acres within the Hardee Flatwoods Florida Forever project. The property contains a mixture of mesic flatwoods, hydric hammock and improved pasture, with various wetlands throughout. This area contributes to habitat connectivity that is necessary for bears and other wide-ranging species, given its location within a mosaic of conservation lands and private ranches. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This conservation easement will be monitored by DEP’s Office of Environmental Services.
The third conservation easement is approximately 3,279 acres within the Bluefield to Cow Creek Florida Forever Project in Okeechobee County. The project is within the St. Lucie River Estuary basin, a focus of the Central Everglades Restoration Project, and provides habitat for several threatened and endangered animal species, including the Florida panther, gopher tortoise, Florida sandhill crane, wood stork, and bald eagle. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This conservation easement will be monitored by FDACS’ Florida Forest Service.
The final conservation easement is over 64 acres within the Millstone Plantation Florida Forever Project, Acquisition of this property in Leon County will protect a highly significant archeological site with evidence of a continuous pattern of settlement for over 10,000 years. The Millstone Institute hosts locally the North Florida – South Georgia Annual Farm Tour, including various agritourism activities throughout the year for the public. This conservation easement will be monitored by DEP’s Office of Environmental Services.
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