North Florida Land Trust is pleased to announce the Florida Cabinet voted today to approve the purchase of a conservation easement on Wetland Preserve in Putnam County with funding from the Florida Forever program. The 3,562 acres owned by Ben and Louann Williams is an important piece of property that is a critical link in the Ocala to Osceola, or O2O wildlife corridor and is also located within the Etoniah/Cross Florida Greenway Florida Forever project.
“Today is a big day for the Williams family and for land conservation,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “Marc Hudson, our land protection director, has worked tirelessly for more than five years to help the Williams achieve their goal of preserving this land. With this funding in place from Florida Forever, this critical piece of property will remain free from development in perpetuity.”
The Cabinet approved $2,873,000 to purchase the conservation easement on Wetland Preserve. NFLT identified the property as a perfect fit for a conservation easement in 2015 and have served as a landowner advocate for the Williams family. In 2017, NFLT helped move them to the top of the list for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program before it was defunded. NFLT then identified the Florida Forever Program as a funding option for the conservation easement. The nonprofit land conservation organization assisted the family through the process while helping the state understand the property and execute the due diligence.
Wetland Preserve is a working forest and the Williams manage and use the land to educate others about its ecological assets. They were recently named Florida Landowners of the Year by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The conservation easement allows the Williams to continue to own the land while ensuring it will be preserved for future generations. The land is mesic flatwoods with a fair portion of mature creek swamps and a smaller area of dry sandhills. It produces fiber and wood and also serves wildlife, protects water resources and benefits native plants. The Williams are permanently enshrining the right for the Florida National Scenic Trail to use its current trail across their land.
NFLT has been focused on preserving land within the O2O corridor, which provides an important habitat for the Florida Black Bear and numerous endangered species including the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snakes and gopher tortoises. As part of this agreement, 160 acres of usable timber land at Wetland Preserve will now be used specifically for gopher tortoise habitat.
The Etoniah/Cross Florida Greenway Florida Forever project was approved in June and is ranked number 11 in the critical natural lands project category for the state. It contains 92,180 acres of land identified for conservation in central Putnam County extending to the Ocklawaha River. The conservation easement on Wetland Preserve moves the project closer to completion. The state now has 61 percent of the remaining land to acquire.
About North Florida Land Trust
North Florida Land Trust is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to protect the natural resources, historic places and working lands (farms and ranches) throughout north Florida. Founded in 1999, NFLT has preserved tens of thousands of acres of land through donation or purchase of land as well as conservation easements. NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with willing landowners and public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations. For more information, visit nflt.org.