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Florida looking to expand land conservation through Florida Forever


Protected land in the Florida everglades. [Photo by Richard Sagredo]


Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet could approve spending more than $141 million to conserve 42,000 acres of land from the Panhandle to the Devil’s Garden area southwest of Lake Okeechobee.


During a telephone meeting Monday, DeSantis and the Cabinet will consider three land purchases through the Florida Forever program, including a deal with one of the largest citrus growers in the nation. Also, DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will consider purchasing three conservation easements to help preserve land from development.




The most-expensive deal would use $77.6 million in Florida Forever money to acquire 17,229 acres from Alico, Inc. in Hendry County as part of what is known as the Devil’s Garden Florida Forever project. While Alico is a huge citrus grower, the targeted land is used primarily for cattle grazing, according to a staff analysis of the proposal.


The Devil’s Garden project includes 82,995 acres in Hendry and Collier counties, with the staff analysis saying, in part, that the Big Cypress National Preserve depends on water supplied from the area. Nearly 52,000 acres have already been acquired or are under purchase agreements.




DeSantis and the Cabinet also will consider spending $26.65 million for a conservation easement on 8,881 acres owned by Adams Ranch along the south shore of Lake Marian in Osceola County. Conservation easements typically restrict future development while allowing landowners to continue using land for such things as agriculture.


Money for the deal would come through the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. Adams Ranch is a cattle operation headquartered in Fort Pierce.




In another conservation-easement deal, DeSantis and the Cabinet would spend $8.25 million to preserve 4,808 acres in northern Leon County. The Gem Land Company property is part of the Red Hills Conservation Florida Forever project.


Terms of the deal would allow eight residential areas on the property, with each having one home and related outbuildings. Also, two structures could be built in an area known as Foshalee Slough for hunting and fishing.




Also, DeSantis and the Cabinet will consider using $10.1 million in Rural and Family Lands program money for a conservation easement on 4,490 acres of the Buck Island Ranch in Highlands County.


The other Florida Forever proposals call for spending $5.4 million to acquire 1,546 acres between Blackwater River State Forest and the Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Santa Rosa County and $13.4 million for 5,454 acres that are part of what is known as the Natural Bridge Timberlands project along the border of Leon and Jefferson counties.


The site southeast of Tallahassee borders the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park and, a staff analysis said, protects the St. Marks River and natural springs.

Staff members recommended approval of all six proposals.

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