According to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Florida (NRCS-FL) and The Conservation Fund, a multi-year effort to conserve working forestlands and habitat along Florida’s Big Bend coast, has been completed. The “Gulf of Mexico – Forest to Sea” project will provide a vast buffer of conservation lands for wildlife habitat, water quality and quantity, and resilience against extreme weather and climate change.
The effort was recently completed with the conservation of 13,352 acres adjacent to the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The forestland, owned by Lyme Timber Company, will be protected in perpetuity with a conservation easement held by NRCS-FL. That will prevent incompatible development of the land and ensure sustainable forest management practices for decades to come.
“We are grateful for this partnership to support locally-led, voluntary conservation and restoration efforts across public/private lands and waters in order to tackle the climate and nature crises,” said Juan Hernandez, NRCS State Conservationist in Florida.
A top priority for NRCS and the more than 10 project partners, this property will protect freshwater flows to the Gulf of Mexico, prevent forest fragmentation, conserve a key wildlife corridor, enhance habitat on-site and downstream, and maintain a commercially operating forest. In the restoration and management plan, approximately half of the property will remain a working forest that is sustainably harvested for forest products. The other half, primarily made up of forested wetlands, will be set aside to grow into mature habitat.
Numerous species will benefit from this project, as it is the last piece in an effort to protect more than 46,000 acres within the State of Florida’s Lower Suwannee and Gulf Watershed Florida Forever project.
Florida’s Big Bend, where the peninsula curves to meet the panhandle, has one of the least developed coastlines in the contiguous U.S. The Big Bend Aquatic Seagrasses Preserve, located just offshore, is critical to the health of the entire Gulf. Working closely with NRCS and project partners, The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit dedicated to finding environmental solutions that make economic sense, played an integral role in facilitating the project.
Funding for this easement was provided by an award from the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).