The takeaway message:
The Florida Cabinet recently approved $79 million in Florida Forever funds to conserve nearly 32,000 acres of land from the Florida Panhandle to Southwest Florida – a purchase that will provide economic and environmental benefits to the state.
What’s going on?
From Central Florida’s scrubby swaths to Southwest Florida’s scattered prairies, new lands all over the state will remain forever untouched. Approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet in May, a series of seven Florida Forever deals ensures the conservation of thousands of acres of state land.
Florida Forever, the state’s premier land acquisition program, has helped protect more than 800,000 acres of land since 2001. The recent purchase contracts ensure that the land “will be retained forever in its natural, scenic, wooded condition.”
Full-fee acquisitions include Silver River in Marion County; South Walton (Topsail) in Walton County; Lake Wimico in Gulf County; Devil’s Garden in Hendry County; and Bluffs of St. Teresa in Franklin and Wakulla counties. In other words, these lands were purchased outright.
Conservation easements were placed on Tippen Bay Ranch in DeSoto County and Green Swamp in Polk County, meaning the owners agreed to permanently limit the use of their land to protect conservation values. While each contract is unique, most limit development on the land while still allowing owners to farm, ranch and maintain their private property rights. These conservation easements also benefit landowners, as they protect land for future generations while owners receive a variety of tax benefits.
Why it matters.
Florida’s environment-dependent economy relies on healthy watersheds and clean, natural spaces, free from human development. This is because both Floridians and visitors use protected lands and waters for tourism and recreational activities, primary drivers of the state’s economy. Florida’s nature-based recreation had a direct output of $1.913 billion in 2015 alone. Natural lands increase adjacent property values and reduce the need for expensive water filtration facilities.
Conserved lands also promote agricultural practices, contribute to wildlife corridors, protect biological diversity, improve the health of Florida’s watersheds and provide natural cover to sequester carbon, a process that helps mitigate climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A study of ten Florida conservation areas also found they generated $1.8 billion annually in ecosystem services, which involve water purification, carbon sequestration, biodiversity maintenance and habitat provision.
According to Gov. DeSantis, “Conserving lands for future generations is vital to our state’s environmental heritage.”
What can I do?
• Get involved with your local land trusts, nonprofits that work to conserve land through acquisition and easements.
• Take steps to place a conservation easement on your property by searching for land trusts near you.
• About the Florida Forever program.
• About the benefits of placing a conservation easement on your property.
• About the history and future of the conservation movement in the United States.