DeSantis, Cabinet Eye Conservation Deals

Dan Conservation, Environment, Florida

Devil’s Garden Florida Forever Project
Courtesy Florida Department of Environmental Protection

(TALLAHASSEE/September 15, 2021) — A series of land preservation deals, covering nearly 20,000 acres from the Devil’s Garden southwest of Lake Okeechobee to forest land in the Panhandle, will go before Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet next week with a combined price tag of $53.1 million.

The proposals, which would mostly be funded through the Florida Forever program, would set aside land for conservation, offering limited public access, or allow agriculture operations to continue with limits on future development.

They also come with the potential for the state to recoup about $9.55 million of the total costs from federal agencies.

“We are taking advantage of that partnership funding,” said Justin Davis, Cabinet affairs director for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The proposed projects include:

— A $14.5 million agreement to acquire 4,381 acres of what is known as the Corrigan Ranch in Okeechobee County. The cost could be reduced by $1.5 million as part of a restrictive covenant with the Air Force related to flight operations over the land.


The land, bordering the south boundary of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park and the Kissimmee River Conservation Area, would help complete the Florida National Scenic Trail.

— A $6.4 million plan to acquire 2,115 acres of forest land in Santa Rosa County. The cost could be offset by $4.59 million from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy program and $500,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Acres for America program.

The land, within the Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest, is adjacent to the Blackwater River State Forest and 10 miles north of Milton.

— A $5.92 million plan to carve a 3,279-acre conservation easement out of what is known as the Cow Creek Ranch in Okeechobee County. The cost would be offset by a $2.96 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The proposal would be funded through the state’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, which is designed to preserve agricultural land, rather than Florida Forever.

The Cow Creek project is one of four proposed conservation easements slated to go before DeSantis and the Cabinet on Tuesday. The use of conservation easements protects land from development while allowing agricultural uses to continue.

Easements are also eyed for 6,665 acres that are used for a cattle operation in Okeechobee and Indian River counties, with a cost of $15 million; 1,661 acres that are used for a cattle operation in Hardee County, with a cost of $4.125 million; and 64 acres along Lake McBride in northwest Leon County, with a cost of $1.5 million.

DeSantis and the Cabinet also will consider continuing to acquire land from Alico, Inc. within the Devil’s Garden, a massive wetland slough in Hendry and Collier counties.

The proposed $5.675 million purchase of 1,638 acres in Hendry County includes land used primarily for cattle grazing that also is considered Florida panther habitat.

In December, the Cabinet agreed to purchase 5,804 acres from Alico, an agribusiness holding company, for land in the Devil’s Garden area for $14.625 million.

Overall, the state has acquired or agreed to purchase 34,755 acres from among 82,995 acres identified as the Devil’s Garden Florida Forever project.

By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida