December 16, 2021

Conservation Effort Completed at Florida's Big Bend

DIXIE COUNTY, Fla. — A multi-year effort to conserve working forestlands and habitat along Florida’s Big Bend coast has been completed, announced the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and The Conservation Fund. The “Gulf of Mexico – Forest to Sea” project will provide a vast buffer of conservation lands for wildlife habitat, water quality and quantity, and resilience against extreme weather and climate change.

The effort was completed with the conservation of 13,352 acres adjacent to the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The forestland, owned by Lyme Timber Company, will be protected in perpetuity with a conservation easement held by NRCS—preventing incompatible development of the land and ensuring sustainable forest management practices for decades to come.

“We are grateful for this partnership to support locally-led, voluntary conservation and restoration efforts across public/private lands and waters in order to tackle the climate and nature crises,” said Juan Hernandez, NRCS State Conservationist in Florida.

A top priority for NRCS and the more than 10 project partners, this property will protect freshwater flows to the Gulf of Mexico, prevent forest fragmentation, conserve a key wildlife corridor, enhance habitat on-site and downstream, and maintain a commercially operating forest. In the restoration and management plan, approximately half of the property will remain a working forest that is sustainably harvested for forest products. The other half, primarily made up of forested wetlands, will be set aside to grow into mature habitat.

Numerous species will benefit from this project, including Gulf sturgeon, alligator snapping turtle, wood stork, gopher tortoise, Florida black bear, and a host of migratory and resident bird species. This project is the last piece in an effort to protect more than 46,000 acres within the State of Florida’s Lower Suwannee and Gulf Watershed Florida Forever project.

Florida’s Big Bend—where the peninsula curves to meet the panhandle—has one of the least developed coastlines in the contiguous U.S. The Big Bend Aquatic Seagrasses Preserve, located just offshore, is critical to the health of the entire Gulf. Working closely with NRCS and project partners, The Conservation Fund—a national nonprofit dedicated to finding environmental solutions that make economic sense—played an integral role in facilitating the project.

“Conserving large, intact, watersheds is one of the most effective solutions we have for protecting the Gulf and creating climate resiliency,” said Lauren Day, The Conservation Fund’s Florida State Director. “Also providing connectivity for wildlife and maintaining sustainable timber operations, this project benefits both the environment and the economy. We are grateful to the NRCS, The Lyme Timber Company, State of Florida, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and our many other partners in this effort.”

Funding for this easement was provided by an award from the NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP, which was most recently reauthorized by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill and is administered by NRCS, provides conservation assistance to landowners and supports collaborative projects that improve soil quality, water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, and other natural resource values.

Critical support for the project was provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Nature Coast Biological Station, and other project partners. DEP completed conservation easements on more than 30,000 acres of nearby forestland owned by The Lyme Timber Company, providing critical partner contributions to the project.

“Florida’s land conservation programs help preserve special natural areas, working landscapes and our quality of life,” said Callie DeHaven, DEP Director of State Lands. “Our conservation lands provide clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, flood control and coastal buffering, and protecting these resources renews Florida’s commitment to the state’s natural and cultural heritage, and the ‘Gulf of Mexico – Forest to Sea’ project is no exception. We appreciate Lyme Timber’s careful land stewardship, and we are so pleased to support this partnership between public, private and non-profit efforts to conserve lands for future generations.”

The Lyme Timber Company has a long track record of acquiring and sustainably managing lands with important conservation values. Lyme is the manager of investment funds that own approximately 95,000 acres in Florida’s Big Bend region.

“The timber industry is Dixie County’s largest employer. This easement will ensure that important forestry jobs stay in the community while protecting the sensitive forested wetlands on the property,” said Tom Morrow, a Managing Director with Lyme Timber.

About NRCS
The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural landowners to conserve natural resources through easements and conservation practices. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) provides conservation assistance to landowners and supports collaborative projects that improve soil quality, water quality/quantity, wildlife habitat and other natural resource values.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation 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 since 1985 to protect more than 8.5 million acres of land, including roughly 168,500 acres in Florida.

About Lyme Timber Company
The Lyme Timber Company LP is a private timberland investment management organization with a long track record of acquiring and sustainably managing lands with important conservation values. Lyme is the manager of investment funds that own approximately 95,000 acres Florida’s Big Bend region.

Jolene Lau | Natural Resources Conservation Service | 530-601-1595 |
Val Keefer | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5802 |