The newest project on the state’s priority list for conservation land buys is a 4,700-acre spread in eastern Alachua County, containing valuable wildlife, water, and plant resources, but also largely given over to pine harvesting.
That’s if Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet approve an updated Florida Forever work plan during a meeting scheduled for June 14.
Sitting as the trustees of state lands, Scott and the Cabinet will review the Florida Forever land-buy priority list and five-year plan for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. A 10-member panel of state agency heads and members of the public assemble the Florida Forever list, and the Department of Environmental Protection the work plan.
Inclusion doesn’t guarantee acquisition right away.
“When things become available, we can make deals happen,” DEP spokewoman Lauren Engel said.
“No. 1 might not be available that year, but No. 27 might have a seller who’s willing to negotiate,” she said. The list “helps us define our focus.”
New to that plan would be Lochloosa Forest, assessed at nearly $5.3 million.
A summary describes the area as upland terrace containing flatwoods, swamps, and marshes, with Hatchet and Bee Tree creeks flowing through. In the past, the area has supported cypress and hardwood logging, and at present pine plantation covers about 80 percent of the land — limiting the parcel’s usefulness for recreation.
However, the property might serve as an “outdoor classroom/laboratory,” similar to one next door at the University of Florida’s Austin Cary Forest, the document says.
Also on the Cabinet’s agenda is the purchase for nearly $5.3 million of 407 acres to protect a network of springs including Gilchrist Blue Springs, near High Springs.
“Four of the six springs are named, with one being a large second magnitude spring that produces an average of over 44 million gallons of water per day,” a summary reads.
“The second magnitude spring, Gilchrist Blue, discharges water through a shallow spring run about one quarter mile to the Sante Fe River. The other named springs onsite are Small Blue Spring, Naked Spring, and Johnson Spring.”
The state’s First Magnitude Springs Project targets 16,000 acres across the state, of which 9,425 have been acquired or have deals pending.
To date, the state has acquired nearly 605,000 acres under the broader Florida Forever program.