FROM THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
By JIM TURNER
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, September 25, 2015………. Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet will be asked Tuesday to spend more than $7.8 million to conserve land that will remain active for ranching in Central and Southwest Florida.
The state has targeted a deal for 1,286 acres of a 1,372-acre tract in Seminole County known as the Kilbee Ranch, with a price of $4.095 million, according to state records.
The second tract eyed for preservation, 1,617 acres of the 9,303-acre JB Ranch in eastern Collier County, has a price of $3.75 million.
Both proposals, which involve the state purchasing what are known as perpetual conservation easements, have been recommended for approval by Cabinet staff.
The Kilbee Ranch land, which received appraisals of $4.755 million and $4.5 million, abuts Little Big Econ State Forest and lies in close proximity to the St. Johns and Econlockhatchee rivers. The land has been used for ranching by the Kilbee family since the 1920s.
John Browne, Florida Forest Service land programs administrator, told Cabinet aides on Wednesday that the family has received numerous offers for the land from developers. “However, they intend to keep the ranch in the family and manage it as a working cow-calf operation,” Browne said.
About 350 head of cattle are now on the land, which includes cypress stands, stands of slash pine and some forested wetlands.
Deer, turkeys, coyotes, feral hogs and Florida black bears are known to inhabit the ranch.
The JB Ranch tract has received appraisals of $4.37 million and $4.165 million.
The ranch, in its third generation of family management, sits north of the Big Cypress National Preserve and east of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. In additional to cows, various parts of the land include timber harvesting, bee keeping and row crops.
Conservation easements typically allow landowners to continue longstanding uses of their property, such as farming and ranching. But the easements serve as a way for the state to preserve natural land because they prevent development.
Both proposed deals would prohibit the ranchers from putting down new roads, erecting buildings or billboards, using unapproved fertilizers or engaging in agricultural activities within a 100-foot buffer of waterways. The deals also would prohibit the ranch families from allowing commercial water wells, planting non-native plants or undertaking activities that may affect threatened or endangered species or water conservation.
While the exploration for and extraction of oil, gas and minerals is a prohibited use under the terms of the Kilbee Ranch deal, JB Ranch will retain the right to explore for oil and gas as long as the activities meet Collier County requirements.
Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, said that while exploration is a hot issue in Collier County, he supports both purchases.
“It’s a complicated issue down there with the mineral rights,” Draper said. “We’re a land owner — Audubon is — there are mineral rights under our lands. It’s kind of hard to disentangle those issues. So I would just put concerns about that aside and say move ahead with these things.”
The state’s costs for the two ranch tracts would be partially offset by a pair of Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture worth a combined $2.5 million.