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Florida preserves 28,000 acres, including land slated for 1,900 homes

The purchase of tens of thousands of acres protects natural lands and links existing conservation areas, the state says.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 2:00 p.m. March 30, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
The Lake Hatchineha Watershed Florida Forever Project.
The Lake Hatchineha Watershed Florida Forever Project.
Courtesy image
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The state of Florida has bought nearly 28,000 acres to be set aside for conservation, including large swaths of property in Collier and Polk counties, one of which was slated for the development of more than 1,800 homes.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and cabinet approved the purchases earlier this week. Prices for the land sites have not been disclosed, but public documents indicate a combined price could be over $150 million.

The land that was bought includes 25,039 acres within the Caloosahatchee-Big Cypress Corridor in Collier and Hendry counties.

And it includes the purchase of 1,342 acres within the Lake Hatchineha Watershed Florida Forever Project in Polk. That land, according to the state, had already been approved for the construction of 1,876 single-family homes.

Instead, it will be managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a Wildlife Management Area.

Both properties are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a network of 18 million acres of connected lands and waters.

The governor’s office announced the purchases and the details of the transactions were included in the agenda for a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund. State law says the board is “charged with the acquisition, administration, management, control, supervision, conservation, protection and disposition of all lands owned by” the state.

According to details included in the agenda, the Collier and Hendry property is made up of four non-contiguous parcels and “bolsters the connectivity” between the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve to the Dinner Island Wildlife Management Area, Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest and the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Wildlife and Environmental Area.

The breakdown in the agenda says this land, along with other conservation land, is “vital in protecting the state’s water resources and preventing habitat fragmentation.”

“Protection of these ecologically critical habitats and agricultural lands provides safe passage and dispersal routes for a wide range of imperiled species and plants, including the Florida panther, and protects the integrity and functionality of agricultural activities threatened by development.”

The governor’s office did not release a sale price, but the agenda says the consideration was $122.4 million.

The property in Polk is a working cattle ranch on the east side of the county, about 9 miles southeast of Haines City. It is named Creek Ranch and has about 350 head of cattle.

It is located “within a landscape that is increasingly under pressure from expansion of nearby suburban population areas (and) is under direct threat of development,” according to the agenda.

Rather than become another commercial and residential development, the governor’s office says the property will expand public recreational opportunities and fill an important gap in the landscape between other state-owned conservation lands near Lake Hatchineha.

The agenda says the consideration for that site was $36.1 million.

The governor’s office in its statement says the Florida Legislature has committed more than $1.25 billion to the Florida Forever Program since 2019.

That includes $100 million in recurring annual funding which, the governor’s office says, has allowed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to buy more than 220,000 acres for conservation, 90% of which is within the wildlife corridor.



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the deputy managing editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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