State Acquires 2,115 Acres in Milton for Preservation in Wildlife Corridor

Posted on October 4, 2021 by Staff reports

Photo by Carlton Ward

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) last Thursday announced the acquisition of a vital 2,115-acre parcel within the Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest Florida Forever project in Santa Rosa County. 

This parcel, which lies within a newly designated wildlife corridor, will enhance the connection between the Whiting Field Naval Air Station northward to the Blackwater River State Forest, creating an over 200,000-acre contiguous tract of protected land. 

This acquisition is a significant step toward establishing a statewide wildlife corridor. Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved this land acquisition along with six other conservation purchases within Florida Forever projects. 

The Forest Legacy Program (FLP) is a conservation program administered by the U.S. Forest Service in partnership with the Florida Forest Service (FFS), a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Combined with approximately $1.3 million in Florida Forever funding, the FLP contributed $4.59 million to the acquisition of the property. Partnering with The Conservation Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation/Walmart’s Acres for America Program also contributed $500,000 to the acquisition.

“The once vast longleaf forests are one of the most threatened and ecologically diverse ecosystems in the world. They provide blankets of groundcover for an abundance of flora and fauna, including threatened species,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “Our efforts, along with our partners’ contributions, will help restore longleaf forests and ecosystems that were historically found on this landscape.”

“The Coastal Headwaters Forest conservation effort aims to protect and restore working longleaf pine habitat in the lower Alabama/Florida Panhandle,” said Lauren Day, The Conservation Fund’s Florida State Director. “The protection of these 2,115 acres in Florida advances this landscape-level initiative, helping to reverse the trend of longleaf pine loss across the Gulf Coastal Plain. We’re honored to partner with the state of Florida, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Service/Walmart, and Resource Management Service, which has a long history of sustainable forest management and environmental stewardship. We also thank Florida’s U.S. congressional delegation for their support of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which enabled this important effort.”

“The forests being acquired by the state of Florida has been managed for decades as a working forest, providing wood for societal needs, wildlife habitat, and clean air and water,”said Jimmy Bullock, Senior Vice President of Forest Sustainability at Resource Management Service. “We are honored to collaborate on this unique partnership dedicated to restoring the longleaf ecosystem, benefiting both the environment and the local economy, providing permanent greenspace near strategic military installations and recreational opportunities for the local community.”

“We are proud to collaborate with great partners to protect one of Florida’s most valuable natural resources,” said Erin Albury, State Forester and FFS Director. “Blackwater River State Forest is our largest state forest, so the acquisition of this tract will ensure active forest management while preserving the habitat connectivity and ecosystem.”

This land has been sustainably managed as a working forest and will ultimately be restored to longleaf pine. It also provides essential water resource protection for the Blackwater River watershed. This purchase will enhance the extensive network of conservation lands in the area and will increase protection of Florida’s biodiversity.

Preservation of the property will also allow for more recreational opportunities, such as camping, hiking, biking, hunting and fishing, and provide for better prescribed fire and smoke management of the state forest. This property will be managed by FFS as part of Blackwater River State Forest. 

Florida Forever is the state’s conservation and recreation lands acquisition program, a blueprint for conserving our natural resources and renewing our commitment to conserve our natural and cultural heritage. DEPs Division of State Lands is Florida’s lead agency for conservation land acquisitions, environmental management and stewardship.