November 4, 2015

ARLINGTON, Va.—The Conservation Fund today announced funding for five projects that support the priorities of Florida’s four Big Bend counties—Dixie, Jefferson, Levy, and Taylor. The region will receive over $85,000 in funding through the Big Bend Seed Grant program and leverage an additional $240,000 in impact. Together, these projects will support the forestry industry's need for workforce development, ensure sustainable and productive fisheries with oyster reef rehabilitation and spotted sea trout harvests, and facilitate nature-based tourism through a new shellfish trail and wildlife watching opportunities. 

"Through our engagement of stakeholders across the four counties, we heard the need for supporting on-the-ground initiatives,” said Kris Hoellen, Senior Vice President of Sustainable Programs and Director of the Conservation Leadership Network of The Conservation Fund.  "We developed the Big Bend Seed Grant program to help local experts implement programs that capitalize sustainably on the healthy natural resources of the Big Bend region to spark economic opportunity."

The grant program stemmed from earlier research that demonstrated the critical importance of the natural resources—the forests, farms, fisheries and the land and waters—as the region's economic backbone. That report includes an in-depth technical analysis and Opportunities for Growth: A Summary Economic Analysis of Florida's Big Bend Region. The Conservation Fund created the grant program, with support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, to enhance this connection and help address the needs expressed by the region's leaders.

“The economic analysis clearly demonstrated the importance of partnering across boundaries to achieve broad outcomes and attract additional partners and funders,” noted Matt Sexton, Senior Vice President and Southeast Regional Director for The Conservation Fund. “The Seed Grants are intended to be a catalyst for collaborative efforts that sustain the natural resources so critical to the area's future.”

Nine proposals—focused on forestry, farming, aquaculture and fisheries, renewable energy, nature-based tourism and workforce development—were received from the four counties.  The Fund evaluated the proposals based on the application criteria and the desire for a diverse project mix. 

The awardees include:
  1. The College of Central Florida for workforce training of timber industry contractors. 
  2. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to develop and market nature-based itineraries for wildlife watching.
  3. The Levy County Board of Commissioners to develop, produce and distribute a Big Bend Shellfish Trail Map, including a Website map.
  4. The Cedar Key Oysterman's Association and Suwannee Oyster Association for the rehabilitation of the Suwannee Sound oyster population and fishery including re-establishing functional reef infrastructure to protect a vital regional fishery and reef ecology.
  5. The Nature Coast Biological Station to undertake a tagging study ensuring sustainable harvests of the region's most important recreational fish species, spotted seatrout, and cultivate community partnerships to sustain the sportfishing industry.

About The Conservation Fund
At the Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states to protect more than 7.5 million acres of land since 1985, including 117,600 acres of working forests, recreational lands, wildlife habitat and cultural resources across Florida.

Release Contact:
Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5809 |