Florida preserves more land for conservation, wildlife

A trip to Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, just south of Tallahassee, is like stepping back in time to Old Florida, with ancient cypress swamps and one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world.

Now, 313 acres of land adjacent to Wakulla Springs will be permanently protected from development, safeguarding the first-magnitude springs from pollution related to commercial or residential development.  

In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved $32 million in funding for the acquisition and conservation of not only the Wakulla Springs “Protection Zone” but also six additional parcels of land throughout the state.  

All of the land falls within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a vast network of public and private conservation lands that stretches from one end of the state to the other, and encompasses state parks, wetlands, forests, rivers, creeks and springs. 

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is not a long continuous strip of land, but more like a patchwork of connecting green spaces that support endangered native species, including the Florida panther, and preserve the state’s many natural resources.

The connectivity of the land is critical to allow wildlife to roam freely in search of food and mates. 

“The recent $32 million public investment is a huge step toward preserving key linkages throughout the Florida Wildlife Corridor,” says Jason Lauritsen, Chief Conservation Officer of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, in a statement announcing the new acquisitions.

A total of 16,706 acres of land will be protected under the new conservation status.  The acreage includes a combination of “wild” untouched native land, as well as “working” farms, ranches and timberland.

Five of the properties recently acquired -- Red Hills Conservation Area, Charlie Creek Cattle Company, Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem, Todd Clemons Family Ranch and Fisheating Creek Ecosystem’s Chaparral Slough -- will continue to be privately owned and managed. The land owners have agreed to sell conservation easements rights, which prevents any future development.

The 11-mile-long Chaparral Slough is an example of a conservation easement that will support the Florida panther and other endangered species by linking Okaloacoochee Slough, Big Cypress Swamp, Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area and Lake Okeechobee.

The Wakulla Springs Protection Zone and the Wolfe Creek Forest in Northwest Florida adjacent to the Blackwater River State Forest will become public lands, expanding adjacent state preserves and helping restore native long pine habitat.⁠

According to the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, “the seven parcels of land are uniquely positioned to address key conservation focuses, including the preservation of ancient scrub, archeological and prehistoric sites, and the protection of endangered and at-risk species. This protected land also preserves the ecosystems necessary to maintain Florida’s unique environmental biodiversity.”

In 2009, Tampa-based nature photographer Carlton Ward, Jr., began championing the concept of creating a permanent Florida Wildlife Corridor. Read more about his advocacy efforts in 83 Degrees Media.

Last year, on July 1, 2021, those efforts paid off when the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, officially establishing the corridor as a conservation initiative.

An initial 19,739 acres were acquired.  Now with the additional seven parcels, the Florida Wildlife Corridor will encompass a total of 36,445 acres of land.

But more land acquisition and conservation easements continue to be a priority, says the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation. 

As the population growth of Florida skyrockets and the “wild” spaces continue to be swallowed up by subdivisions, “continued investment in conservation lands is critical to ensure the long-term survival of native wildlife, provide life support systems for Florida’s cities, improve the health of our waters, and protect natural Florida for future generations.”

You can watch a series of documentary films about the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The most recent documentary, “Spring to Shore” followed three teens as they embarked on a four-day trek, starting at Rainbow Springs State Park and the Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon and finishing in Homosassa Bay at the Gulf of Mexico.
 

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.