Conservation easements protect wildlife habitat

Posted 8/23/22

Conservation easement projects will protect critical headwaters, working forests, and recreation areas.

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Conservation easements protect wildlife habitat

Burrowing Owls are among the wildlife that will benefit from conservation easements.
Burrowing Owls are among the wildlife that will benefit from conservation easements.
Photo by Jolie Gordon/Audubon Photography Awards
Posted

TALLAHASSEE --  On Aug. 23, the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet approved conservation projects that included a mix of fee title purchases and conservation easements to permanently protect more than 19,800 acres, or a total area of 31 square miles, through the Florida Forever and Rural & Family Lands Protection programs (RFLPP). By permanently protecting these areas, we are preserving critical headwaters, working forests, and recreation areas while protecting the habitat of some of Florida’s most iconic bird species, including Florida Scrub-Jays and Burrowing Owls.

“These significant conservation decisions made today demonstrate how Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands Protection programs work together to steward the Sunshine State’s critical natural resources. As our state grows and develops so should our attention to preserving Florida’s special places. We need all the tools in our toolbox to protect our natural landscapes through fair, transparent processes,” said Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director for Audubon Florida.

Six hundred and thirty-tree acres of Hendrie Ranch in Highlands County will be protected from development by conservation easements. [Photo by Carlton Ward Jr./Wildpath]
Six hundred and thirty-tree acres of Hendrie Ranch in Highlands County will be protected from development by conservation easements. [Photo by …
Protected via conservation easement are:

  • 615 acres within the Crippen Properties, Okeechobee County (Florida Forever),
  • 3,634 acres within Abington Preserve, Okeechobee County (Florida Forever),
  • 11,958 acres within Horse Creek, DeSoto & Hardee Counties (Florida Forever),
  • 633 acres within the Hendrie Ranch, Highlands County (Rural and Family Lands Protection Program),
  • 1,883 acres within the Buck Island Ranch, Highlands County (Rural and Family Lands Protection Program).
    Six hundred and thirty-tree acres of Hendrie Ranch in Highlands County will be protected from development by conservation easements. [Photo by Carlton Ward Jr./Wildpath]
    Six hundred and thirty-tree acres of Hendrie Ranch in Highlands County will be protected from development by conservation easements. [Photo by …

 Protected via fee simple purchase are:

  • 376 acres within the St. Joe Timberland project, Franklin County (Florida Forever), and
  • 768 acres within Wolfe Creek project, Santa Rosa County (Florida Forever).

Crippen Ranch is located within the Kissimmee-St Johns River Connector Florida Forever project, which ranked number 7 in the Florida Forever Less-Than-Fee category.

 "We thank the Governor, the Cabinet, and the Department of Environmental Protection for continuing to support critical land acquisitions to protect our natural and agricultural landscapes,” said Traci Deen, President and CEO of Conservation Florida. "The conservation of biodiversity at a landscape-scale level is not only necessary for wildlife such as the Florida panther, black bear, and gopher tortoise, but also for protecting our water, wildlife corridor, and way of life. With today’s approval of Crippen Ranch, this property is on its way to being protected for generations to come."

Crippen Ranch will be protected from development by conservation easement. [Photo by Carlton Ward]
Crippen Ranch will be protected from development by conservation easement. [Photo by Carlton Ward]

“We are grateful to Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet for supporting these acquisitions,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “These projects will provide protection to imperiled species, connectivity for recreational and wildlife corridors, and support the preservation of Florida’s natural landscapes for future generations. We also appreciate our many agency and community partners who helped to make these projects possible.”

Crippen Ranch’s location made it a priority for Conservation Florida. Located in the Northern Everglades, within the Avon Park Sentinel Landscape and Conservation Florida’s H2O Conservation Initiative, within Priority 2 of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, and directly adjacent to the vast Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, the ranch is an extraordinary example of a property’s protection supporting many conservation goals.

“Protection of both natural and working land in this region is essential, providing critical habitat for the Florida grasshopper sparrow, sandhill crane, mottled duck, wood stork, crested caracara, and other imperiled wildlife species,” said Adam Bass, Conservation Florida’s Vice President of Conservation. “

“Conservation Florida has been a pleasure to work with,” said landowner Scott Crippen. “I am a huge advocate for preserving wild Florida. I will rest easy knowing our family’s ranch will be appreciated, as it is now, forever. I sincerely hope other ranchers and landowners take this path in conserving what is left of our wild and beautiful state.”

The Northern Everglades is prized for its large, historic cattle ranches, sweeping vistas, and critical ecosystems. The projects Conservation Florida targets in this region help filter surface water flowing from the north before it reaches Lake Okeechobee. The region is a mosaic of seasonally wet grasslands, longleaf pine savannas, and cattle ranches that sustains one of the most important assemblages of imperiled species in the southeast United States. Projects Conservation Florida targets in this region will help filter surface water flowing from the north before it reaches Lake Okeechobee. In addition to contributing to the clean drinking water supply for millions of people, the land provides shelter for many species of neotropical birds during their spring and fall migrations. It is also estimated that more than 50% of all habitats used by panthers in the Northern Everglades are on private lands.

 Rural & Family Lands Protection Program

RFLPP is an agricultural easement program managed by the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services and the Florida Forest service to protect important agricultural lands through the acquisition of permanent land conservation easements. This program partners with federal programs such as the Department of Defense and NRCS, leveraging state appropriated funds dollar for dollar with these federal sources.

As working lands are under increasing economic pressure to be divided and sold, RFLPP preserves our rural landscapes, allowing Florida’s landowners to preserve agricultural land, keeping it in their ownership while helping to protect our state’s precious natural resources.

 Florida Forever Program

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.

conservation easements. Audubon, Okeechobee, Highlands

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