By NewsLine Staff
North Florida Land Trust is proud to announce they tripled the amount of conservation lands in 2016. From 1999 to 2015, the organization protected more than 6,000 acres of land. In 2016, they added more than 12,000 acres to the amount of land held for conservation purposes. It is the most land North Florida Land Trust has been able to preserve in one year since they started their mission. North Florida Land Trust’s historic year was attained with conservation easements, acquisitions of land and donations of both.
“We are elated with what we have been able to accomplish this year and grateful to all our partners and donors who made it possible,” said Jim McCarthy, Executive Director of NFLT. “I credit our staff for our historic success. Their hard work allowed us to triple the acres of land now preserved in our area. They have been incredibly diligent and focused on our mission. We still have a way to go to preserve all of the land that we have identified as critical for preservation and I look forward to another historic year.”
One of the main projects for NFLT was to identify lands throughout their seven-county focus area in critical need of preservation. The document they created is called the Preservation Portfolio and it identifies 112,346 acres of land they would like to preserve. They put a price on the cost of acquiring the land and compared it to the ecosystem benefits that the land would provide for free if left undisturbed. They found the ecosystem benefits from the land, like clean air and water, was worth double the cost of acquisition. North Florida Land Trust has been able to acquire about 214 acres of land in the portfolio and will continue their mission through 2017 to acquire the remaining acreage.
Another highlight of the year was the acquisition of the Spanish American War Fort. With the help of the City of Jacksonville, the Delores Barr Weaver fund and numerous donors, North Florida Land Trust saved the 1898 fort from destruction. The fort is an important piece of Jacksonville’s history and once restoration is complete, it will be turned over to the National Park Service and added to the Fort Caroline National Memorial as a public access park. North Florida Land Trust also assisted the National Park Service in acquiring the Billy Tract, which is an eight-acre parcel that will allow for a trail between Fort Caroline, Spanish Pond, Ribault Monument and the Spanish American War Fort.
North Florida Land Trust worked with multiple landowners to help them through the process of selling conservation easements to the State of Florida. McCarthy addressed the governor and his cabinet in support of more than 5,200 acres of land owned by the Meldrim family. He helped to persuade the state to approve the nearly $6 million purchase of the conservation easement, which protects Watson Island State Forest, allows the Meldrim family to continue to harvest timber, contributes to the economy by providing jobs and protects the land from any future development.
North Florida Land Trust worked directly with landowners in Baker and Putnam County to conserve a combined 6,115 acres of land through the state’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. North Florida Land Trust assisted the families through the process of selling the conservation easements to preserve the natural land forever. The South Prong Plantation in Baker County, owned by Doug and Teresa Moore, is 2,410 acres of pine plantation and natural swamp and forest lands. The Wetland Preserve in Putnam County is 3,705 acres of working pine forest and wetland tract owned by Ben and Louann Williams.
“We are also proud of our work with developers in 2016 and are thrilled to see them respond to our Preservation Portfolio and join with us to protect the natural areas in North Florida,” said McCarthy. “In December, we completed three acquisitions from developers in both St. Johns and Duval County. The first was the Fletcher Davis Management Group who contacted us after learning we were looking to conserve land they owned in St. Johns County. We also heard from Charles Chupp, who donated land on Big Talbot Island, and from Gary and Laine Silverfield and Christie Atkerson, who donated land along the Guana River that we had targeted for preservation.”
North Florida Land Trust also received land from Charles and Mary Farr and the Cummer family. The Farr conservation easement is 44 acres on Horse Creek Farm in St. Johns County and the Cummer donation is 137 acres composed of several tracts along the Withlacoochee River in Sumter and Citrus County.