Home Nature Over 10,000 Acres Preserved in Land Acquisition near Everglades City

Over 10,000 Acres Preserved in Land Acquisition near Everglades City

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Over 10,000 Acres Preserved in Land Acquisition near Everglades City

A primary-of-its kind sale within the Everglades has preserved greater than 11,000 wild acres while protecting it from oil drilling without end.

The intricate $29.5 million deal brought together the Collier family, the nonprofit WildLandscapes International, an environmental consulting firm, Family Lands Remembered, the Florida Legislature and the South Florida Water Management District in addition to stakeholders throughout the region.

Dubbed the Green Heart of the Everglades, the Collier County property is west of State Road 29 and south of U.S. 41 running south to Everglades City between Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and Everglades National Park.

Greater than 1 / 4 of the land is mangrove habitat, critical for water quality and storm protection, while the uplands are home to black bears, Florida panthers, and 37 other federally listed species within the region. The land can be necessary for the humans who make their living with airboat tours, guiding paddlecraft, crabbing and fishing, activities that may proceed now that it’s in conservation.

Surrounded because it is by preserves, having this piece click into place was exciting, says Patrick Iler, director of strategy and policy for Family Lands Remembered, since it’s a critical connector.

A missing piece connecting wild lands

“For those who look on a map of protected land in south Florida, “This piece was missing. Every little thing around it’s green, which suggests it’s protected, after which this piece is white … that last missing piece,” he said.

An aerial view of the Green Heart of the Everglades property, where Florida panthers, black bears and many other threatened species roam.

The project brings full circle what began half a century ago with the creation of the Big Cypress preserve, says Curtis Osceola, the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida’s chief of staff. “It is a significant step in the appropriate direction since it is the primary time the Collier family has sold their oil rights together with the land. I feel it’s extremely necessary and timely, considering how we’re currently fighting efforts to construct recent oil wells within the Big Cypress. It’s an ongoing battle that has spanned three generations, but from the Tribe’s perspective, this can be a promising first step. Stay tuned.”

Osceola’s eluding to ongoing efforts to get those rights to guard sensitive lands from exploration and drilling. Mineral rights might be sold individually (or retained) when an actual piece of land sells, an arrangement that’s caused no end of alarm within the environmental community.

A Florida panther tripped a motion sensor camera set up by News-Press photographer Andrew West in the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed in early May of 2022. A purchase of 10,000 acres in Collier County provides an important missing piece in protected habitat for panthers, bears and other wildlife.

The Collier family, from which the county gets its name and once the realm’s principal landowner, kept mineral rights on much of the land it sold, which allows it to extract oil from that land, although it not owns it. That’s why there’s oil exploration and wells on land generally regarded as panther and ghost orchid country. Meanwhile, environmentalists scramble to search out ways to be sure that the extraction does as little damage as possible or to purchase the mineral rights and eliminate the threat outright.

That’s what WildLandscapes was working on: option agreements with two other parcels owned by Collier family corporations, when these 11,053 got here to their attention, Iler said. “Through the course of our discussions, they said, ‘Well we even have this wetland property that we’d wish to conserve,’ So we took a glance.”

What they saw was wonderful – “just gorgeous” is how Matt Schwartz, executive director of South Florida Wildlands Association describes it: “a extremely beautiful, biodiverse place.”

What it took to get the deal done

Fast-forward through greater than two years of wrangling and deal-making, and that gorgeous place is now protected, Iler said, due to an option agreement of around a thousand dollars, “a small amount of cash in comparison with the general value.”

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