SEBRING — Conservation Florida, a leader in statewide land conservation, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have partnered to protect a conservation gem on Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County.
With exceptional habitat, such as wet prairie, scrub, and cutthroat grass, this property is a high protection priority. Located on the northwest edge of Lake Istokpoga, the landscape offers a glimpse of prehistoric Florida with ancient oak hammocks and sand pine scrub scattered among vibrant marshes and endangered grasslands.
These habitats are teeming with life and play a vital role in protecting the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, which spans from Orlando to Florida Bay at the southern tip of Florida.
Added public benefits include protection of 2,000 feet of shoreline, scenic vistas and an archaeological site. Protection will also contribute to the preservation of Highland County’s cultural ranching heritage, as free roaming cattle have been grazing in this region since the 1800s.
Conservation Florida has been selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to receive funding to protect XL Ranch Lightsey Cove. Funding will be awarded via the NRCS Agricultural Conservation Easement Program for Agricultural Land Easements Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance (ALE-GSS).
“Projects like XL Ranch are a great example of NRCS’s commitment to preserve working agricultural lands and protect the long term sustainability and viability of these farms across the state of Florida,” said Juan Hernandez, NRCS Florida State Conservationist.
In Florida, NRCS, has provided financial and technical assistance for landowners to restore 189,866 acres of wetlands since 1998 and preserve 59,612 acres of agricultural land since 1996 through easements.
“This is an exciting opportunity for Conservation Florida, and we look forward to working with both NRCS and the Lightsey family to acquire a conservation easement on XL Ranch Lightsey Cove,” said Traci Deen, the executive director and CEO of Conservation Florida. “We’ll be protecting this critically important property forever, and that’s very special.”
The purpose of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is to protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply. The easements are designed to keep productive working lands in agricultural uses. More benefits to the public include improved environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space.
The ALE-GSS program funding offers protection for “the long term grazing uses and related conservation values” of XL Ranch Lightsey Cove. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, “The program emphasizes support of grazing operations, maintaining and improving plant and animal biodiversity, and protecting grasslands and shrublands under threat of conversion to cropping, urban development, and other non-grazing uses.”
More, XL Ranch Lightsey Cove lies within the Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR) Sentinel Landscape. The APAFR Sentinel Landscape covers almost 1.7 million acres of land and is known for its rich biodiversity and abundance of private ranches. The sentinel landscape is anchored by the Air Force’s largest primary air-to-ground training range east of the Mississippi River, which is used by every branch of the Armed Forces. The sentinel landscape is also home to portions of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.
The APAFR Sentinel Landscape is also a partnership to conserve land in this region. Conservation Florida is a partner in this collaborative effort to protect land of high conservation value that also enhances military readiness.
“XL Ranch Lightsey Cove is a slice of Old Florida, and its protection is vital to the Northern Everglades,” said Adam Bass, Conservation Florida’s director of conservation. “We look forward to working with our partners to protect this important property in perpetuity.”
To make a donation in support of regional conservation, visit conserveflorida.org. Explore their website to learn more about Conservation Florida, its partners, and its work to save land throughout Florida.
About Conservation Florida
Conservation Florida is a statewide accredited land trust with a mission to save Florida’s natural and agricultural landscapes for future generations. Our conservation projects support Florida’s native plants and wildlife, fresh water, conservation corridors, family farms and ranches, the economy and nature-based recreation. Since our founding in 1999, Conservation Florida has led the way in strategic and evidence-based land protection and has saved over 25,000 acres of critical habitat through acquisition, facilitation and incubation of conservation projects.
We save land by developing conservation strategies, exploring funding sources and purchasing or accepting donations of land and conservation easements. Our other services include providing expertise to guide landowners through the land protection process, serving as a trusted community partner to support statewide land conservation and promoting land conservation through effective education and advocacy. Our vision is large-scale, and we are 100% committed to conservation in the state of Florida – for nature, for people, forever!