The Governor and Cabinet approved the preservation of 5,211 acres of environmentally sensitive ranch lands in Okeechobee and Highlands counties through cost-effective conservation easements, which prevent future development of the land and allow agriculture operations to continue to contribute to Florida’s economy. The purchases are a part of the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, where the state partners with Florida’s farmers and ranchers to preserve active agricultural operations and their immense economic and environmental benefits.
“With more than 1,000 people moving to Florida every day, we must continue to prioritize the preservation of our world-renowned natural spaces,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “Through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, we’re partnering with farmers and ranchers to preserve these invaluable pieces of our rural economy and environment for future generations in a cost-effective way.”
One easement will preserve 4,177 acres of the Triple S Ranch in Okeechobee County, where more than 25 percent of the easement is considered unaltered wetlands consisting largely of interconnected cypress domes. The second easement will preserve 1,034 acres of the S.Y. Hartt ranch in Highlands County. The easement is one mile south of the Avon Park Air Force Range and borders the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area and the Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program’s Rafter T Ranch conservation easement.
The partnerships increase the total land preserved by the program to 36,706 acres over 37 conservation easements. Since 2011, the current Governor and Cabinet have approved the acquisition of 30 projects totaling 33,121 acres, a more than 900 percent increase in acres preserved by the program. Additional details on the purchases can be found here.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services created the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program in 2001 to protect working agricultural lands threatened by other uses, such as 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 $120 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.
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