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HomeNewsworthyPress ReleaseState Completes Investment of $26 Million to Conserve 16,200 Acres in Five...

State Completes Investment of $26 Million to Conserve 16,200 Acres in Five Florida Forever Projects

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Press Release

By Florida Department of Environmental Protection

03-06-24

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is celebrating the state’s acquisition of 16,200 acres of conservation lands within the Avalon, Etoniah/Cross Florida Greenway, Longleaf Pine Ecosystem, Apalachicola River and Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Florida Forever projects.  

This $26 million investment expands the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a designated network of connected lands that creates critical linkages for wildlife habitat, by 13,080 acres. 

“Each of these unique Florida Forever projects and land acquisitions safeguard native plant and animal species, conserve our water resources and protect our state’s natural heritage,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “I am thankful to Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for giving us the tools to enable these types of successes.”  

About these acquisitions: AVALON FLORIDA FOREVER PROJECT

Several conservation easements were completed within the Avalon Florida Forever Project, totaling approximately 11,700 acres in southern Jefferson County.  

These conservation easements provide long-term protection of the forestland and wetland systems characteristic of the Red Hills region of Florida. They also help protect high-quality ecological communities that provide critical habitat for the region’s rare wildlife and plant species, including the Florida black bear, gopher tortoise, southern fox squirrel, Bachman’s sparrow, yellow fringed orchid and Florida mountainmint.  

The Governor and Cabinet approved the acquisition of conservation easements totaling nearly 7,000 acres on May 23, 2023, and these sales were finalized in late fall. Two other tracts were acquired by DEP under delegation and closed late fall as well. 

ETONIAH/CROSS FLORIDA GREENWAY FLORIDA FOREVER PROJECT 

Two purchases were made totaling 3,200 acres within the Etoniah/Cross Florida Greenway Florida Forever Project in Putnam County.  

One 800-acre parcel is contiguous with the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway state recreation and conservation area and enhances wildlife corridor connectivity and increases forest management efficiency.  

The second property is a 2,400-acre conservation easement located just west of Palatka. Acquiring less-than-fee protection furthers the goals to conserve and protect environmentally unique lands where native plants and wildlife thrive, and it protects water recharge areas.  

The two parcels were acquired by DEP under delegation and closed in October 2023. 

LONGLEAF PINE ECOSYSTEM FLORIDA FOREVER PROJECT

DEP also finalized acquisition of three parcels totaling approximately 500 acres within the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem Florida Forever Project in northeastern Marion County.  

These three parcels are inholdings within the Ocala National Forest and contain one of the largest remaining tracts of old growth longleaf pine in Florida, dating back over 300 years.  

The property will help protect adjacent water sources such as Lake Kerr and Salt Springs, a first-magnitude spring that is important for wintering West Indian manatees. Preservation of these important parcels within the Florida Wildlife Corridor helps provide foraging and migration habitat for the Florida black bear and other migratory species.  

This acquisition may also subsequently complete a segment of the Florida Natural Scenic Trail. 

The Governor and Cabinet approved this acquisition on May 23, 2023, and the sale was finalized in October 2023. 

APALACHICOLA RIVER FLORIDA FOREVER PROJECT  

DEP and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) worked together to acquire a critical parcel adjacent to Torreya State Park and TNC’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.  

The property protects the fragile steephead ravine system that is internationally recognized as a biodiversity hotspot for conservation and protection. These steephead ravine systems are home to some of the most vulnerable and endangered species in the country, including the Florida Torreya – an extremely rare species of tree that grows along the high bluffs of the Apalachicola River. While the tract has been used as a tree farm for decades by previous owners, the protracted goal will be to restore it to its former diverse longleaf pine habitat. 

Preservation of the property also protects the water quality of the Apalachicola River, which feeds the Apalachicola Bay.  

This 758-acre property was acquired by DEP under delegation and the sale closed in November 2023.

LAKE WALES RIDGE ECOSYSTEM FLORIDA FOREVER PROJECT  

Through the Florida Forever program, DEP acquired 212 lots under delegation within the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Florida Forever Project, and the sale was finalized on Nov. 28, 2023. 

Managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as part of the Holmes Avenue tract within the Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife Environmental Area, the small lots total 66 acres and play a significant role in consolidating a management boundary within the tract. 

The property lies within the Florida Wildlife Corridor and exemplifies the concept of connecting landscapes for healthy populations of wildlife, including the Florida scrub-jay, sand skink, scrub blazing star and scrub plum.  

Lake Wales Ridge, a unique geological feature that stretches south from near Orlando almost to Lake Okeechobee, is an ancient beach and dune system that has stood 300 feet above sea level for over 1 million years. Lake Wales Ridge contains plants and animals found nowhere else and preservation of this property protects one of the best remaining examples of ancient scrub and safeguard the highest concentration of endemic scrub plants and animals, many in jeopardy of extinction.  

Florida Forever is the state’s conservation and recreation land acquisition program, a blueprint for conserving our natural resources and renewing the state’s commitment to preserving its natural resources and cultural heritage. DEP’S Division of State Lands is Florida’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship. 

Since 2019, the state has invested $1.25 billion for land acquisition, including $825 million specifically for the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This consistent funding has allowed DEP to acquire over 220,000 acres during this time, approximately 90% of which are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
About the Florida Department of Environmental Protection

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s principal environmental agency, created to protect, conserve and manage Florida’s environment and natural resources. The department enforces federal and state environmental laws, protects Florida’s air and water quality, cleans up pollution, regulates solid waste management, promotes pollution prevention and acquires environmentally sensitive lands for preservation. The agency also maintains a statewide system of parks, trails and aquatic preserves. Visit the department’s website at FloridaDEP.gov.https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLDEP/bulletins/38ee52e
 
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