Vital conservation corridor easement at Hendrie Ranch
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have acquired a perpetual conservation easement on 661 acres of the Hendrie Ranch in Highlands County. While the landowner will continue to manage the land as a cattle ranch with this easement, future development will not be permitted.
The property lies within some of the state’s existing high-priority land acquisition projects, including the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Florida Forever project and the Hendrie Ranch project of the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. Together, these programs have secured hundreds of thousands of acres for conservation of the state’s natural resources and protection of valuable agricultural lands.
This property is adjacent to the Archbold Biological Station and anchors an emerging connection to as many as 125,000 acres of contiguous conservation lands, providing important corridors for wildlife, including lands critical for Florida panthers. Other endangered and threatened species that benefit include Florida scrub-jay, eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Florida black bear, gopher frog and Audubon’s crested caracara. In addition, the acquisition enhances the protection of surface water and groundwater quality and quantity.
“The acquisition of an easement on this property is a great step in conserving a valuable connection between existing public lands, securing an important corridor for many species, including the Florida panther,” said Melissa Tucker, Director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “We are thankful to our partners at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida for their partnership on this important acquisition.”
“The protection of essential landscapes, like those of Hendrie Ranch, has been a priority for The Nature Conservancy for decades because they are integral in providing wildlife, such as the Florida panther and Florida black bear, additional secure corridors in which to move safely,” said Greg Knecht, Interim Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “This collaboration of landowner, federal and state agencies, and nonprofit organizations successfully results in the acquisition of conservation easements that safeguard lands and waters critical to biodiversity, climate resilience, and our state’s future. We’re grateful to TNC’s members and donors who provided funds to help support this effort.”
The Governor and Cabinet approved the acquisition on Aug. 23, 2022 and it closed Jan. 3, 2023. The acquisition was made possible with funds from the USFWS Recovery Land Acquisition program, which helps conserve habitat for endangered species, the RFLPP and TNC.