State votes to protect more land for Florida Wildlife Corridor

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Florida Wildlife Corridor
One of seven parcels protected on Aug. 23, 2022 by the Florida Governor and Cabinet. Photo courtesy of Carlton Ward Jr / CarltonWard.com.

The Florida Cabinet on August 23 voted to protect an additional 20,000 acres in the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

“That’s a huge step forward.” Carlton Ward Jr., co-founder of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation told WaveMakers just minutes after the vote.

Carlton is a conservation photographer, whose work has appeared in National Geographic and the Smithsonian documenting the wild side of Florida, the hidden places few of us see. He has captured extraordinary images of endangered Florida panthers, ghost orchids, black bears, Florida cowboys and much more. 

Carlton’s work with scientists, ranchers and conservationists prompted him to co-found the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation. The Foundation aims to preserve 17.7 million acres of land for the wildlife whose survival depends on it. The concept has been bipartisan and popular. This year the Republican-controlled Legislature appropriated $300 million for land purchases and conservation easements to protect 8.1 million acres in the corridor.

And today, the Florida Cabinet approved more than $56 million to acquire seven properties across the state that will be designated for conservation. The seven parcels total nearly 20,000 acres, more than 98% of which are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a recently designated network of connected lands that are crucial for wildlife habitat

“It’s about much more than wildlife,” Ward said.

The wildlife, he said, including the bears, panthers, sparrows and other wildlife that appear in his photographs, are the symbols for the corridor. But that land is also tied to agriculture, ranching and tourism.

“This is actually an infrastructure plan. It’s way to keep the green and natural part of Florida working for all of us,” he says.

The seven properties protected stretch from the Panhandle to the Everglades, and includes 16,000 acres on the Peace River near Sarasota.

Ward talked to WaveMakers about the Cabinet decision, his work for National Geographic and his newest project, the documentary film, “The Path of the Panther,” which is set to stream in the next year.

Listen to the entire interview here or by searching for WMNF WaveMakers wherever you listen to podcasts.

For more information and to spread the word about the Florida Wildlife Corridor go to wildpath.com/progress.

Below is a press release about the conservation purchase from the Office of the Governor

Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida Cabinet Invest More than $56 Million to Acquire Nearly 20,000 Acres for Conservation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet invested more than $56 million to acquire seven properties across the state that will be designated for conservation. The seven parcels total nearly 20,000 acres, more than 98% of which are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a recently designated network of connected lands that are crucial for wildlife habitat.

“Acquiring lands for conservation and recreation is a top priority for my administration,” said Governor DeSantis. “Conservation of these key properties will forever benefit water quality, rare wildlife habitats and corridor linkages, as well as support Florida’s ever-growing economy.”

“We are grateful to Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet for supporting these acquisitions,” said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “These projects will provide protection to imperiled species and connectivity for recreational and wildlife corridors and will support the preservation of Florida’s natural landscapes for future generations. We also appreciate our many agency and community partners who helped to make these projects possible.”

About today’s acquisitions:

  • The addition of 768 acres within the Wolfe Creek Florida Forever Project in Santa Rosa County, which is part of an ongoing strategic partnership between federal, state, local and private entities. This acquisition expands public recreational opportunities and provides a corridor between Blackwater River State Forest and other state-owned conservation lands near Whiting Field Naval Air Station. This property will be managed by the Florida Forest Service as an addition to Blackwater River State Forest.

Since 2010, the state has acquired nearly 11,000 acres within the Wolfe Creek Florida Forever project, and today’s approval will achieve substantial completion.

This property is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

  • A 376-acre property within the St. Joe Timberland Florida Forever Project in Franklin County will be managed by the Florida Forest Service as an addition to Tate’s Hell State Forest.

The parcel will expand Tate’s Hell State Forest and will create access for wildlife to nearly two miles of streams that flow into the East Bay. It also features well-maintained forest cover along with a diverse habitat for native wildlife including the red-cockaded woodpecker, a federally recognized endangered species.

  • A conservation easement will cover 11,958 acres within the Horse Creek Ranch Florida Forever Project in DeSoto and Hardee counties. The Southwest Florida Water Management District is purchasing a conservation easement over Carlton Horse Creek Ranch’s remaining acreage, which will bring the total easement acreage to more than 16,000. The property is located in the Peace River Basin and will help to ensure the continued protection of the area’s drinking water supply. It also supports the area’s tourism industry and local commercial and sport fishing industry.

This property is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

  • Conservation easements of 3,634 and 615 acres within the Kissimmee-St. Johns River Connector Florida Forever Project will create habitat and hydrological connections in Okeechobee County. These easements, near Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, are part of a key region of the Northern Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area and will benefit native, imperiled Florida wildlife such as the grasshopper sparrow, sandhill crane, mottled duck, wood stork and crested caracara.

These properties are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

  • A conservation easement of 1,882 acres within the Fisheating Creek Ecosystem Florida Forever Project in Highlands County was acquired through the Florida Forest Service’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. This property is also located within the Buck Island Ranch Rural and Family Lands Protection Program project. Following the acquisition of this property, 67% of Buck Island Ranch’s total acreage will have been designated for conservation.

This property is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

  • The final conservation easement covers 663 acres within the Lake Wales Ridge Florida Forever Project in Highlands County and was acquired through the Florida Forest Service’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. This property is adjacent to several conservation lands, including the Archbold Biological Station, Fisheating Creek/Smoak Groves conservation easement and Fisheating Creek/Lykes Brothers conservation easement.

This property is within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. 

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