FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 16, 2008
CONTACT: Marguerite Jordan, (850) 245-2112, or (850) 528-8206
State of Florida partners with Navy to protect
critical FLORIDA natural lands
~Acquisition helps protect military mission and water quality ~
TALLAHASSEE – Recently, Governor Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet approved the purchase of more than 200 acres in the “Clear Creek/Whiting Field Florida Forever” project. The first acquisition within the project, 200 acres, will help protect Coldwater Creek and Clear Creek, both Outstanding Florida Waters. An Outstanding Florida Water is a water body designated with special protection because of its natural attributes and to protect water quality. In addition, the acquisition will prevent encroachment along the Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Santa Rosa County, continuing the state’s partnership with the military to acquire environmentally sensitive land while protecting national security.
“We enjoy a tremendous partnership with the state and it is important that we manage the growth around Whiting Field,” said Capt. Enrique “Rick” Sadsad, Commanding Officer, Naval Air Station Whiting Field. “We look forward to this partnership and future partnerships that help preserve habitat and reduce encroachment on military operations.”
The Clear Creek/Whiting Field Florida Forever project lies 1.5 to 3 miles west of the Blackwater River State Forest, one of the state’s largest natural areas, and provides habitat for many endangered and threatened plants and animals, including gopher tortoises, southeastern weasel, white-topped pitcher plant, spoon-leaved sundew, panhandle lily and the hairy-peduncled beakrush. Located close to the city of Milton in Santa Rosa County, the majority of the project consists of upland pine forests, sand hills, and mature and young pine plantations.
“Once complete, the overall project will protect hydrological resources of Clear Creek and Coldwater Creek, as well as provide a conservation land buffer to Naval Air Station Whiting Field, a vital military training facility,” said DEP’s Director of the Division of State Lands Deborah Poppell. “This purchase is important for preserving rural lands in an urbanizing area as well as protection of wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species.”
Once all of the land is acquired to complete the project, a priority will be to extend the Blackwater River Heritage State Trail, furthering the expansion of the growing trails network in this area. Potential recreational uses include canoeing, camping, hiking, biking, wildlife observation, nature photography, scientific research and environmental education.
To date, the state has invested more than $900 million to acquire more than half a million acres around military bases such as Eglin Air Force Base and Naval Outlying Landing Field Whitehouse. An additional 630,000 acres have been identified for potential acquisition in the upcoming years. By preventing incompatible encroachment around military bases, through Florida Forever, the amount of contiguous land for wildlife protection and recreational opportunities increases. In return, the military can continue its training missions to ensure the safety of all Americans.
Additional Florida Forever land acquisitions near military installations include:
· Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Okaloosa County: more than 11,000 acres of the Yellow River Ravines Florida Forever project were acquired in October 2007. Located to the north of Eglin AFB, the acquisition provides a wildlife corridor connection from Eglin AFB through Blackwater River State Forest up through the Conecuh National Forest in Southern Alabama.
· Naval Outlying Landing Field Whitehouse (OLF), Duval County: more than 1,650 acres were acquired in June 2006. This acquisition is in the Northeast Florida Timberlands and Watershed Reserve Florida Forever project. The importance of this acquisition, located on the east side of Whitehouse OLF, is to not only prevent development encroachment for the field, but also protect the gopher tortoise and other natural wildlife found in the area. This property provides a connection from the original Cary State Forest boundary to the Jacksonville Baldwin Rail Trail.
Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Walton County: more than 16,000 acres were protected by DEP acquiring a conservation easement in April 2005. The acquisition is in the Nokuse Plantation Florida Forever project located on the east side of Eglin AFB. In 2007 more than 1,000 gopher tortoises were relocated from St. Johns County to Nokuse Plantation and nearly 650,000 longleaf pine seedlings were planted.
Currently, of the 106 projects on the Florida Forever list, 27 of them, or one out of every four, has some relation to the military. Florida was the first state in the nation to partner with the U.S. Department of Defense under the federal Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative funds for the dual purpose of environmental protection and national defense. The Panhandle alone is home to five U.S. Air Force and Navy installations and represents one of the largest open air military training areas in the United States. Strategically important for homeland security, the region is also a known biological "hot spot" ideal for preservation and recreation.
Originally established in 1999, the 10-year, $3 billion Florida Forever program is the largest land-buying initiative in the nation, conserving environmentally sensitive land, restoring water resources and preserving important cultural and historical sites. More than two million acres throughout the state have been placed in public ownership under Florida Forever and its predecessor program, Preservation 2000. For more information on the Florida Forever program, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/acquisition/FloridaForever/.
To view the Clear Creek/Whiting Field project map that outlines the subject parcels eight and nine acquired in this purchase, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/news/files/ClearCreek_AgendaMap.pdf.