A 1,285-acre ranch in southern Highlands County will be the latest parcel to gain protection within the section of the Florida Greenways Ecological Network.
The protective deal was announced recently by Conservation Florida, whose staff provided technical assistance to secure the deal with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Formal consideration will occur at the March 13 meeting of the Governor and Cabinet acting as the Trustees for the Internal Improvement Fund.
The proposed purchase price is $4 million.
The property is owned by Lee A. Lightsey and Tracy V. Lightsey.
The property is a former active cattle ranch that is now used primarily as a residence and a recreational hunting venue.
According to the staff report for the meeting, it is part of the 43,051-acre Blue Head Ranch Florida Forever Project that protects regional water and wildlife resources around Fisheating Creek, which flows to Lake Okeechobee.
Before this area was approved for conservation protection, it was along the route of a controversial toll road proposed nearly two decades ago called the Heartland Parkway, whose southern leg through rural lands and crucial wildlife habitat was later abandoned.
The northern portion in the Bartow-Winter Haven area of Polk County is under construction.
Another toll road was proposed more recently along a different route through large swaths of rural land and crucial wildlife habitat in southwest Florida, but was abandoned as a result of protests by environmentalists and property owners and a conclusion that it was unnecessary and financially unsound.
The existence of increased amount of protected conservation lands in this part of Florida—the list of prohibited activities listed in the conservation easement includes the construction of new roads unrelated to restoration work—seems to guarantee that the concern over the encroachment of new roads has lessened.
That makes easements like this a big win for the environment.