Cabinet OKs Florida Forever that includes 4,800 acres in Leon County

More than 4,800 acres in the Red Hills region will be permanently protected and provide ecological benefits to Florida’s capital city and beyond after the Florida Cabinet approved funding for a conservation easement on Leon County’s Cherokee property.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet on Monday quickly approved $141 million in deals that will help preserve land from the Panhandle to Southwest Florida.

During a meeting held by telephone, DeSantis and Cabinet members supported three land purchases under the Florida Forever program. They also approved buying three conservation easements, which help preserve land while allowing owners to continue using it for such things as agriculture and hunting.

One of the conservation-easement deals involves spending $8.25 million to maintain 4,808 acres north of Tallahassee. The deal with Gem Land Co., in part, would allow the construction of eight single-family homes on the property, along with outbuildings and driveways.

Funding for the conservation easement comes from Florida Forever, the state’s voter-approved land conservation program.

The new conservation easement on Cherokee, located just north of Tallahassee, will prohibit residential, industrial and commercial development on the property while protecting natural areas.

The multi-generational property, which has been family-owned and managed since the 1940s, connects to existing conservation easement lands north of Tallahassee.

The state of Florida’s commitment to conserving the property through public dollars provides a critical link to the Florida Wildlife Corridor as well as existing, permanently protected private and public lands from the Georgia border to the Gulf Coast.

Especially important are the public benefits this conservation easement provides by protecting water resources, wildlife habitat and the area’s rich scenic beauty.

It will conserve natural habitats, wildlife, and water resources associated with Foshalee Slough, which is hydrologically connected to Lake Iamonia and the Ochlockonee River.

Over 700 acres of mature cypress and tupelo wetlands will be protected from future timbering and development activity. These natural habitats protect surface waters critical for groundwater recharge of the Floridan Aquifer, an important source of drinking water for many Floridians.

Additionally, this conservation easement will protect uplands managed for silviculture. Pine timber production is one of the most low-impact land uses supporting our local economies in the region.

Through such conservation easements, management of the property is retained by the landowner making private land conservation a cost-effective public investment for protecting large-scale ecosystem services.

The commitment and conservation ethic of private landowners like those at Cherokee will help ensure natural lands, wild spaces and rural working lands in Florida are permanently protected.

“The Florida Forever conservation easement at Cherokee is a major win for North Florida,” said Tall Timbers’ Land Conservancy Director Shane Wellendorf. “The connections its conservation will provide for wildlife, water resources and to maintain the scenic beauty of the landscape are invaluable to the Red Hills and Florida’s Wildlife Corridor.”

Permanently protecting Cherokee will further several conservation goals in the Red Hills, including the continued use of frequent prescribed fire and carbon sequestration through natural processes.

Landowners throughout the region have a long history of using prescribed fire to manage natural habitats for quail and other wildlife and to maintain healthy forests. Prescribed burning mimics a natural process that promotes plant and animal diversity and reduces wildfire risk.

Collectively, conservation of lands like Cherokee throughout the Red Hills will ensure long-term use of prescribed fire necessary to support that diversity.

Large rural landscapes with minimal development, such as those in the Red Hills, make it easier to conduct prescribed burning. Conservation easements limit land fragmentation and development, and thus, allow the continued use and benefits of prescribed fire.

Tall Timbers, a nonprofit research station and land conservancy in Tallahassee, works with private landowners to manage and conserve their lands and has assisted the Cherokee’s owners throughout the Florida Forever process.

“Long-term protection of the Red Hills’ wild spaces wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of private land owners like those at Cherokee and the dedication of the State of Florida to land conservation,” Wellendorf said. “It’s been an honor for Tall Timbers to work with Florida Department of Environmental Protection staff and to assist the Cherokee owners in permanently conserving their land for the benefit of the region.”

The most-expensive deal involves spending $77.6 million in Florida Forever money to buy 17,229 acres from Alico, Inc. in Hendry County as part of what is known as the Devil’s Garden Florida Forever project. While Alico is a huge citrus grower, the targeted land is used primarily for cattle grazing, according to a staff analysis of the proposal.

Other Florida Forever projects approved Monday call for spending $5.4 million to acquire 1,546 acres between Blackwater River State Forest and the Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Santa Rosa County and $13.4 million on 5,454 acres involving the Natural Bridge Timberlands project along the border of Leon and Jefferson counties.

The site southeast of Tallahassee borders the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park and protects the St. Marks River and area’s natural springs.

Previous post CERN researchers continue to look for elusive monopoles
Next post Bella Hadid Just Went Completely Bald & Honestly, It’s Giving