Florida: Governor Ron DeSantis and Cabinet Approve Largest Investment in Decades for Conservation Lands
The Floridant/10265578

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. ~ TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - In a move to protect Florida's natural lands and promote conservation efforts, Governor Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet have approved an investment to safeguard nearly 28,000 acres of land in the state. This decision also marks the first acquisition within the Caloosahatchee-Big Cypress Corridor, an important habitat for the Everglades and panthers.

Governor DeSantis expressed his pride in Florida's commitment to land conservation, stating that these protections will ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the state's natural resources. Under his administration, there has been a renewed focus on protecting imperiled species, maintaining landscape connectivity, preserving water resources, promoting sustainable agriculture, and safeguarding coastal areas.

Since 2019, the Florida Legislature has allocated over $1.25 billion to the Florida Forever Program, with $100 million being dedicated annually. This consistent funding has allowed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to acquire more than 220,000 acres for conservation purposes. Notably, 90% of these acquisitions are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

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DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton expressed his gratitude towards Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet for their unwavering commitment to environmental stewardship and public lands. He emphasized that each new land acquisition contributes towards protecting Florida's natural resources and solidifies its reputation as a top ecotourism destination.

The approved land acquisitions include 25,039 acres within the Caloosahatchee-Big Cypress Corridor in Collier and Hendry counties. This will further connect important conservation areas such as the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve with other protected lands like Dinner Island Wildlife Management Area and Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest. The protection of these ecologically critical habitats will prevent fragmentation and benefit a variety of imperiled species including the Florida panther.

In addition, 1,361 acres within the Yarborough Ranch Florida Forever Project in Seminole County will be acquired to safeguard the Econlockhatchee River and Geneva Freshwater Lens. This area is a vital source of drinking water for county residents and is surrounded by existing conservation land. The acquisition will provide a crucial linkage for imperiled species such as the Florida black bear and will be managed by the Florida Forest Service as part of the Little Big Econ State Forest.

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The third approved acquisition is 1,342 acres within the Lake Hatchineha Watershed Florida Forever Project in Polk County. This land will expand public recreational opportunities and fill a gap in the landscape between other state-owned conservation areas near Lake Hatchineha. The property was under threat of development, but instead, it will now be managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a Wildlife Management Area.

In addition to these land acquisitions, Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet also approved permanent agricultural land conservation easements over more than 8,000 acres through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. This includes over 3,000 acres within Heart Bar Ranch, which has been a working cattle ranch since 1847.

The Governor and Cabinet also approved the Florida Forever Priority List and Annual Work Plan for Fiscal Year 2024-25. These documents guide the annual expenditure of Florida Forever funding and include 128 projects covering more than 2.1 million acres. Ninety-nine of these projects are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

For more information on today's conservation efforts, please visit here.

Filed Under: Government, State

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