VENUS — On August 23, 2022, an option agreement to acquire a conservation easement over 633 acres of the Hendrie Ranch in southern Highlands County was approved by the Governor and Cabinet. The Hendrie Ranch lies at the southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge and within the Headwaters of the Everglades, northwest of Lake Okeechobee. The proposed easement will protect precious Florida scrub habitat as well as adjoining grasslands and increase connectivity for wildlife, contributing to building the Florida Wildlife Corridor by providing critical linkages with neighboring conserved lands. The easement will be monitored by the Florida Department of Agriculture. Funding is available from the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and a grant for this project awarded to FDACS from the US Fish and Wildlife Service under their Recovery Lands Acquisition program. Additionally, The Nature Conservancy has committed $100,000 in funding for the establishment of endowment to provide for the long-term management of the property.
The 633-acre easement, as approved, lies on a northwest parcel of the Hendrie Ranch, a working cattle and timber operation totaling over 7,000 acres. The easement is designed to protect scrub habitats, open grasslands, and many associated rare and threatened species while allowing for continued grazing and ranch operations. The proposed easement parcel shares its north boundary with the south boundary of Archbold Biological Station. Dr. Hilary Swain, Archbold’s Executive Director, expressed, “We are thrilled that this easement has been approved for the Hendrie Ranch. It will protect very precious Florida scrub habitat and rare endemic scrub plants and animals such as the Scrub Plum and Florida Scrub Jay. Archbold has enjoyed a wonderful working relationship with the Hendrie family over many decades. We admire their contributions to conservation, their support of scientific research on their lands, and their cooperation on land management as neighbors and partners. Hendrie Ranch is one of the celebrated jewels in the crown of privately managed lands of high conservation value in the state. This easement is the next step in the bold vision of connecting public and private conservation lands from the Lake Wales Ridge to Fisheating Creek and further south, building critical linkages for a successful Florida Wildlife Corridor.
Derek Hendrie, speaking on behalf of his family and the Hendrie Ranch said, “We are thankful for the decision by the Governor and Cabinet to approve funding for this conservation easement. It was a dream of my late great-grandfather, Jim Hendrie, to conserve the property in perpetuity so that it could always be a safe haven to all species of Florida wildlife and so he could continue our family’s history of environmental stewardship instilled in him by his parents John and Susan DuPuis. We are looking forward to concluding this and hopefully additional easements soon. We are excited to link the conservation lands in the Fisheating Creek Ecosystem with the conservation lands of the Lake Wales Ridge to serve forever as a wildlife corridor so we may help to preserve some of the remaining portions of beautiful, undeveloped Florida, which are currently being lost to development at an estimated rate of 100,000 acres per year. Thank you to all the organizations that have made this possible by their relentless pursuit of bringing awareness to the benefits of conservation easements on private lands, and to all the lawmakers who sponsored the funding to make this possible.”