From 1999 to 2015, the organization protected just over 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 NFLT has been able to preserve in one year since they started their mission. NFLT’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. NFLT 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, NFLT 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. NFLT 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.
NFLT 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.
NFLT 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. NFLT 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.”
NFLT 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.
In 2016, NFLT worked closely with the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program to identify and preserve land near Camp Blanding. The acquisition was funded in part by a grant from the National Guard Bureau as part of the REPI program and with help from the Clay County Development Authority, who secured a grant from the Florida Defense Support Task Force.
“We are going to keep up the momentum in 2017 and our plan is to double our 2016 success,” said McCarthy. “The beauty of the land that we preserve and the large amount of wildlife and plant species that depend on these habitats is why we do what we do. We encourage everyone to get out and enjoy the natural lands, observe the wildlife and just spend some time in the great outdoors.”
About North Florida Land Trust
North Florida Land Trust is a non-profit organization who serves as a champion of environmental protection primarily in Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns counties. NFLT was founded in 1999 and has protected thousands of acres of environmentally significant land including land at Big Talbot Island, the River Branch Preserve, Pumpkin Hill State Park, Moccasin Slough, along the St. Mary’s River and other valued natural areas in Northeast Florida. NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with private landowners and other public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations. For more information, visit www.northfloridalandtrust.org.
Contact: Kelly White