This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved 10 land and conservation easement acquisitions to protect Florida’s natural environment.
The properties, totaling more than 17,000 acres, will be managed and monitored by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) or the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Seven of the 10 projects, totaling 16,706 acres, are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
“These essential land and conservation easement acquisitions are important to protecting Florida’s rich natural areas and will preserve Florida’s critical ecosystems, “said DeSantis. “Since day one, my administration has prioritized protecting and restoring Florida’s environment and natural resources.”
“Thanks to the dedication of the governor, Cabinet and Florida Legislature to protecting our natural resources, Florida’s environmental priorities, including land acquisitions, have never been stronger,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “Since 2019, this Cabinet has approved over 113,000 acres of land and conservation easements for acquisition through the Florida Forever program, and we are grateful for the continued support to further protect Florida’s natural spaces.”
“The Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and our partners applaud Governor Ron DeSantis and the Board of Trustees for their leadership in safeguarding Florida’s wild legacy for future generations,” said Jason Lauritsen, the chief conservation officer of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation. “This public investment is a huge step toward preserving key linkages throughout the Florida Wildlife Corridor.”
“Audubon is excited to celebrate the protection of some of Florida’s best remaining natural treasures,” said Julie Wraithmell, the executive director of Audubon Florida. “Florida Forever’s transparent, accountable, science-based process ensures the public can be confident the most important places are being protected for a reasonable price, and willing sellers can be confident their projects are evaluated on their merits. The projects approved by the governor and Cabinet are validation of this program, its values and the importance of Florida’s environment to our state’s prosperity. This is a win for Swallow-tailed Kites, black bears, water quality, climate resilience and the natural heritage of all Floridians.”
Florida Forever Land Acquisitions
The first approved parcel is 3,610 acres within the Wolfe Creek Forest Florida Forever project. The property is adjacent to Blackwater River State Forest (BRSF) and will be managed by FDACS’ Florida Forest Service. The property is part of a large-phased landscape acquisition partnership between the DEP’s Division of State Lands and others, including Santa Rosa County and the U.S. Navy. This proposed acquisition provides an east-west corridor connection from the BRSF to join Navy property and other state-owned conservation lands. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The second approval is three acquisitions totaling 313 acres within the Wakulla Springs Protection Zone Florida Forever project, with FDACS’ Florida Forest Service as the managing agency. These acquisitions will enhance the proposed corridor to connect the Wakulla State Forest (WSF) north to south from the Leon-Wakulla County line south to the existing WSF. The preservation of this area will help provide a vital linkage, additional public access and recreational opportunities within WSF, and protect the vital water resources of Wakulla Springs, the Wakulla River, St. Marks River and Apalachee Bay estuary. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The third approved parcel is 241 acres within the Pumpkin Hill Creek Florida Forever project. The property will be managed by DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks as part of the Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park. There are four known archaeological sites on the property containing evidence of human history dating back 4,000 years. These conservation lands are within the Seven Creeks Recreation Area, which is comprised of seven creeks surrounded by seven preserves and parks managed by local, state and federal governments and local non-profit organizations.
The fourth approved parcel is 160 acres within the Florida Forever program’s Strategic Managed Area Lands List. The property will be managed by DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks as part of River Rise Preserve State Park. Preservation of this significant hydrologically important property is critical for the overall protection of the regional water supply as well as the entire Floridan Aquifer. This acquisition will allow the property to remain in its natural state, aiding in water resource sustainability by restricting development, preserving natural systems and promoting water retention and aquifer recharge.
The final approved parcel is 2.85 acres within the Florida Keys Ecosystem Florida Forever project. The proposed acquisition will be an addition to the Florida Keys Wildlife and Environmental Area managed by FWC. The property consists of almost an acre of rockland hammock, a globally imperiled upland habitat rich in biodiversity and under constant development pressure. This property features buttonwood wetlands, salt marsh, mangrove wetlands and provides habitat for multiple bird species, including the gray kingbird, mangrove cuckoo, white-crowned pigeon, bald eagle, osprey, Antillean night hawk and various migrating songbirds and hawks.
The first approved conservation easement is over 6,864 acres within the Fisheating Creek Ecosystem Florida Forever project. This area has been designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as habitat critical to federally listed endangered Florida panther recovery and long-term survival. The conservation easement is an 11-mile-long and one-mile-wide wildlife corridor around Chaparral Slough, a tributary to Cypress Branch. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The second approved conservation easement is over 4,132 acres within the Red Hills Conservation Florida Forever project. The property has been used for agriculture and recreational hunting since the early 1900s. The acquisition increases the protection of Florida’s biodiversity at the species, natural community and landscape-level in the Red Hills region, preserves significant archaeological and historic sites and increases the amount of natural forestland available to sustainable management of natural resources. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The third approved conservation easement is two parcels totaling 354 acres within the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Florida Forever project. The two properties are contiguous to Highlands Hammock State Park on its entire northern boundary, and Haw Branch Creek traverses diagonally through both tracts. The properties are within the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, a mosaic of seasonally wet grasslands, longleaf pine savannas and cattle ranches that sustain one of the most important assemblages of imperiled species in the southeast. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The fourth approved conservation easement is approximately 932 acres within the Todd Clemons Unit 1 project of the FDACS Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. The project contains approximately 40 acres of wetlands with numerous creeks traversing the property that contribute to the flow of the Kissimmee River. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The final approved conservation easement is approximately 501 acres within the Charlie Creek Cattle Company project of the FDACS Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. Charlie Creek, a tributary of the Peace River, flows through the property for more than three miles. With this approval, now approximately 67 percent of the Charlie Creek Cattle Company project will be protected. This acquisition is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.