From the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the Florida Board of Trustees, which includes Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam, unanimously approved the conservation of more than 2,500 acres of environmentally sensitive land on the S.Y. Hartt ranch in Highlands County. The conservation easement, which is a part of the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, protects working agricultural and environmental lands from residential and commercial development. This conservation easement is the largest single easement in the program’s history and increases the total land preserved by the program to 14,268 acres.
“This property is an invaluable piece of Florida’s world-renowned ecosystem, contributing to the protection of aquifer recharge areas and providing habitat for a wide variety of wildlife,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “With the approval of this conservation easement, the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program now preserves more than 14,000 acres from future development, while allowing the land and agriculture operations to continue to contribute to Florida’s economy.”
This easement is located within the Northern Everglades and Kissimmee River watersheds and is comprised of freshwater marshes, oak hammocks, swamps, wet and dry prairies, cypress domes, improved pasture, and citrus. Wildlife found on the property includes: wild turkey, deer, hogs, indigo snakes, alligator, quail, coyotes, bald eagles, grasshopper sparrows, scrub jays, gopher tortoises and black bear. In addition, this parcel is located in close proximity to the Avon Park Air Force Range and is a critical piece of buffer land to the military base.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services created the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program in 2001 and has acquired 21 perpetual easements. The easements protect working agricultural lands threatened by other uses, such as residential and commercial development.
The goals of the program include:
• Protecting valuable agricultural lands;
• Creating conservation easements that ensure sustainable agricultural practices;
• Preventing conversion to non-agricultural land uses in the rural base of Florida; and
• Helping to protect natural resources in conjunction with these agricultural operations.
Florida agriculture has an overall economic impact estimated at more than $123 billion annually, making it the state’s second largest industry. The agriculture industry supports more than 2 million jobs in Florida.
More information on the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program is available here.
For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FreshFromFlorida.com.