State will consider expansion of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Posted by Staff, WMNF

Posted on May 17, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — State officials next week could direct nearly $100 million to secure more than 35,500 acres of mostly ranchland for the growing statewide Wildlife Corridor while keeping agricultural operations on the properties in place.

Twelve land deals on the May 23 agenda before Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet involve conservation easements, which allow the current landowners to continue active hunting, farming and cattle operations. In exchange, the land would be kept from residential and commercial development.

“By partnering with willing farmers to preserve working agricultural lands from development, we can protect their immense economic and environmental benefits while being good stewards of our tax dollars,” Aaron Keller, spokesman for Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, said in an email on Tuesday when asked about the proposals.

DeSantis and the Cabinet — Simpson, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody — will address the land deals while sitting as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund during next week’s meeting.

The agreements would help carry out the 2021 Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. The act calls for pumping $300 million a year into an effort envisioned as connecting 18 million acres of land for wildlife and the public, from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican who has championed the corridor, has dubbed the project Florida’s “Central Park.”

About 8 million acres need to be secured, with a goal of adding 900,000 acres by the end of the decade.

Nine of the deals up for consideration next Tuesday cover a combined 18,279 acres in St. Lucie, DeSoto, Walton, Hardee, Polk, Highlands and Charlotte counties. The projects would be funded through the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

“It’s a lot. It’s exciting,” Christie Utt, who works for the program, said after outlining the projects during a Cabinet aides meeting Wednesday. “Hopefully we’ll keep it up.”

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