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Landowners in some local Florida counties eligible for conservation easement program

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The conservation easement program designed to solve on-farm, watershed, and regional resource concerns is set to begin sign up for Florida landowners who qualify. The program will begin accepting applications on Apr. 17.

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As part of this initiative, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its partners have funding to pay landowners for conservation easements placed upon their land. Due to the complex nature of conservation easement projects, landowners interested in this funding are strongly encouraged to contact NRCS to discuss this funding option prior to submitting an application.

Florida landowners interested in aligning their land uses with conservation values have an opportunity to apply for the conservation easement program. The program is in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), NRCS and the North Florida Land Trust (NFLT).

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Applications for the fiscal year 2023 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) U.S. Held Easements will be accepted and evaluated by NRCS and NFLT through Jun. 16, 2023. NFLT and NRCS accept conservation easement applications year-round; however, applications received after Jun. 16, 2023, will be considered for the following fiscal year, as funding allows.

The project’s mission is to protect the Ocala to Osceola Wildlife Corridor. The O2O is a 100-mile-long, 1.6-million-acre, landscape of public and private lands that connect the Ocala and Osceola National Forests. The O2O includes priority lands for the Florida Ecological Greenways Network and is a significant part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Read: DeSantis and Florida Cabinet eye 12,000+ acres land conservation deals

By protecting the habitats, the O2O will continue to provide habitat for Florida black bears and at risk species like the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake, and gopher tortoise. In addition, there are opportunities for protecting iconic Florida ecosystems, including longleaf pine forests, sandhills, and scrub in the O2O.

Counties and land that fall within the O2O Wildlife Corridor that might be eligible for the conservation easement program.

Conservation easements funded through the RCPP program may maintain agricultural uses, promote longleaf pine range, native forest and grassland restoration, weather resiliency, carbon sequestration practices, and wildfire adaptability. These easements will also contribute to protect habitats and migration routes of native, threatened, endangered, and imperiled species.

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Participating in the RCPP Grants program helps secure the future of the nation’s food supply, prevents land with high conservation value from being developed or converted to a non-agricultural use, and provides public benefits including environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat, and protection of open space.

Read: North Florida Land Trust has acquired 400 acres for conservation in Clay County

If you are a landowner interested in conserving your land in partnership with NFLT, the O2O Partnership, and NRCS, please contact:

Heather Barnes, NFLT O2O Coordinator, at hbarnes@nflt.org  or (904) 579-1967.

Michael Ruiz, NRCS RCPP-Easements, at michael.ruiz@usda.gov or (352) 338-9566.

Links of interest:

Natural Resources Conservation Service (Florida):  https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/conservation-basics/conservation-by-state/florida

North Florida Land Trust: https://www.nflt.org/

Regional Conservation Partnership Program: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs-initiatives/rcpp-regional-conservation-partnership-program/florida/regional-conservation