Florida officials approve $79 million in conservation land buys, including near Green Swamp

The purchases cover tracts from Central Florida to the Panhandle and fall under the Florida Forever program.
Sandhill cranes in an area of the Green Swamp in Polk County that is similar to a tract preserved Thursday under the Florida Forever program.
Sandhill cranes in an area of the Green Swamp in Polk County that is similar to a tract preserved Thursday under the Florida Forever program. [ Photo courtesy Doug DeNeve ]
Published May 28, 2020|Updated May 28, 2020

Thousands of acres of natural land will be conserved under a series of Florida Forever deals approved by the governor and state cabinet Thursday.

The purchases, worth $79 million, cover tracts from Central Florida to the Panhandle, including an easement of about 700 acres around the Green Swamp in northern Polk County.

Doug DeNeve, conservation chair for the Tampa Audubon Society, said he has helped with a bird count near that parcel, in an area he said includes pasture and pocket wetlands.

Where there are trees, he said, he has seen woodpeckers, and the spot is frequented by wading birds as well as grasslands species like meadowlarks. Most of all, DeNeve said, he hopes the purchase helps the water supply.

“It’s a great place for water to sink in and recharge the aquifer,” he said.

Florida Forever is a land acquisition program that aims to conserve wild spaces from development. Acquisition of the Polk County easement will cost $1.13 million and ensure it remains an open space. Also among the deals announced Thursday was 17,080 acres in the area of Dickerson Bay, near the Ochlockonee River State Park, which state officials say will support estuaries around Franklin and Wakulla counties. The area already is home to several large state and national preservation tracts. The Nature Conservancy said it has worked with state environment officials to save the land, the Bluffs of St. Teresa. Advocates have targeted it for conservation since 1996.

The Florida Cabinet includes Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office published a news release after the meeting with statements from conservationists and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, who celebrated the Dickerson Bay purchase. The governor was quoted as saying the land buy will help not only with environmental protection but also in boosting recreation and the local economy.

Other approved acquisitions Thursday involve: 9.9 acres in Marion County; an easement of almost 3,000 acres in DeSoto County; more than 10,000 acres along a state forest in Hendry County, which the News Service of Florida reported features habitat for Florida panthers; nearly 600 acres in Gulf County; and a small section of land in a state park in Walton County.

Lindsay Cross, director of government relations for Florida Conservation Voters, said in total nearly 32,000 acres of land will be preserved.

She said the move “will protect drinking water, wildlife habitat, agricultural lands and lands that buffer the impact of climate change.” But in the statement, she also called out state leaders for pushing toll road projects that conservationists say would disrupt wildlife corridors.

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.