State purchases 10,684 acres in Hendry County for preservation

Posted 5/28/20

TALLAHASSEE — Property in Hendry County was included in the Florida Forever purchases approved by the Florida Cabinet on May 28.

“Protecting places like Devil’s Garden in perpetuity helps us …

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State purchases 10,684 acres in Hendry County for preservation


TALLAHASSEE — Property in Hendry County was included in the Florida Forever purchases approved by the Florida Cabinet on May 28.

“Protecting places like Devil’s Garden in perpetuity helps us ensure open space for wildlife like panthers and healthy wetlands to protect us from both wildfires and harmful algal blooms,” said Steve Buczynski, a board member of Henry-Glades Audubon. “Thanks to Southwest Florida’s legislative delegation for their support of Florida Forever funding this and every year — it is paying real dividends for our region.”

The Devil’s Garden Florida Forever Project will purchase 10,684 acres from Alico Inc. for $28.5 million. The property was ranked number 12 in the Critical Natural Lands project category, approved by the Board of Trustees on June 4, 2019.

Devil’s Garden includes 82,995 acres in Hendry and Collier counties. The project is named after a wetland slough in the eastern portion of the overall project. The western portion, the focus of this acquisition, is comprised of a mosaic of natural lands used primarily for cattle grazing, according to the report to the Florida Cabinet.

The connectivity of uplands and wetlands draining both to the north and south are important to protecting the state’s water resources. 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 project lies within the Western Everglades Restoration project planning boundary.

A 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 wetlands and watershed protections.

The 10,684-acre subject property shares its western and southwestern boundary with the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest and its southeastern boundary with a United States Department of Agriculture Wetlands Reserve Program conservation easement. Serving as a primary and secondary zone for the federally endangered Florida panther, numerous records of panther use, as well as other rare and threatened plants and animals, have been noted throughout the subject property. 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, the report continues.

Preservation of the subject property will contribute to increased protection of Florida’s biodiversity at the species, natural community and landscape levels; additionally, it will reduce potential nutrient impacts within the Caloosahatchee River watershed and Western Everglades Basin, enhance the hydrologic connection of conservation land within the South Florida ecosystem and provide additional recreational opportunities, the report continues.

There are three hunt camps on the subject property. Any improvements associated with these camps are considered tenant improvements and were not included in the valuation of the subject property.

The property will be managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as part of Okaloacoochee Slough Wildlife Management Area.

Since 2001, more than 800,000 acres have been protected through the Florida Forever program, which has enjoyed broad public support statewide. These properties and more make up Florida’s award-winning state park system, wildlife management area system, state forest system and other parks and preserves for the enjoyment of Floridians and visitors alike.

“What a victory to see these properties protected in perpetuity, for generations of people and wildlife alike,” said Julie Wraithmell, executive director for Audubon Florida. “This is what Florida Forever is truly about — protecting what makes our state special, our quality of life and the bedrock foundation of our state’s economy.”

“Whether these are coastal buffers protecting a healthy Gulf of Mexico or habitat for imperiled wildlife in Florida’s heartland, protected lands like these are an investment in Florida’s prosperity,” said Beth Alvi, director of policy for Audubon Florida. “The Legislature appropriated funding to Florida Forever, and this is the Department of Environmental Protection delivering on the will of Florida’s public. They saw important opportunities to protect these places and negotiated savvy deals for the taxpayer.”

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