DEP Closes on 21,000 Acre Conservation Easement That Buffers Eglin Air Force Base, Conserves Habitat and Recharges Aquifer

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has closed on a conservation easement of nearly 21,000 acres that also acts as a buffer to Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. The purchase, approved in August by Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet, is a partnership between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, The Trust for Public Land,  landowner M.C. Davis and Eglin Air Force Base after Florida was awarded $1.75 million from the U.S. Department of Defense as part of the 2013 REPI Challenge.

Governor Scott said, “Florida continues to show that it is the most military friendly state in the country and I am proud to continue partnering with our armed forces to ensure our military can properly train in Florida. This partnership between MC Davis, The Trust for Public Land, Florida and the U.S. Department of Defense is a great example of how we can protect our environment while supporting our U.S. Military.”

 The Department contributed $10.2 million of Florida Forever funds, Davis discounted the property by $7 million, the U.S. Department of Defense contributed $1.75 million as part of the 2013 REPI Challenge and Eglin Air Force Base contributed $550,000.

 The Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program funds cost-sharing partnerships for the military with state and local governments and private conservation organizations to address the need for compatible land use and conserved natural landscapes in support of military readiness. Projects require at least a 1:1 funding match.

 “This large tract of conservation land is a testament to the partnership between Florida, the Department of Defense, the Trust for Public Land and landowner MC Davis, who has discounted this conservation land as a service to Floridians,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “This purchase helps to fulfill the Department’s continued emphasis on preserving conservation land that protects springs, water resources and buffers military areas.”

Col. Shawn Moore, 96th Civil Engineer Group commander said, “Eglin Air Force Base is very grateful to Governor Scott and his staff at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Trust for Public Land, Nokuse Education, Inc., and the late Ms. Nancy Natoli of the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment), for their dedication in getting this landmark conservation easement put in place.  Collectively, via the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) initiative, this partnership recognized the importance of protecting Eglin and its missions and the value of protecting the natural resources within the State of Florida.”

 The purchase completes the Seven Runs Creek Florida Forever Project. In 2010, the North Nokuse Plantation project, which encompasses 11,961 acres, and the Seven Runs Creek project — 14,649 acres — were combined. The project was added to the Florida Forever priority list because of its groundwater recharge benefits and ability to protect 14 rare species, including the Florida black bear, gopher tortoise, Florida pine snake, Pine Barrens treefrog and eastern diamondback rattlesnake. It also provides additional buffer for Eglin Air Force Base, one of the country’s largest Air Force bases. The 20,800-acre conservation easement is the second largest in Florida history behind Fisheating Creek, a nearly 42,000 acre conservation easement in Glades County that closed in 1999.

Greg Chelius, senior project manager for The Trust for Public Land said, “We’re always grateful to partner with the State of Florida. Seven Runs Creek is a priority for clean drinking water and the Gulf of Mexico. M.C. Davis, the landowner, has already planted 7 million longleaf pine trees and his vision for restoration is the centerpiece of this initiative. Our airmen and airwomen at Eglin Air Force Base and the people of Walton County will benefit from the protected lands which buffer the base.”

 Landowner M.C. Davis said, “The Seven Runs project is a shining and original example of Entrepreneurial Conservation. The successful combination of government and private resources made this large-scale project achievable and affordable. This new process will surely be followed for similar future projects. The DEP, under the senior leadership of Herschel Vinyard, worked closely with Eglin AFB and the Pentagon to enhance the quality of the Florida environment, the security of our country, and the enterprise of our region, for which I and future generations will be eternally grateful.”

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