A misguided proposal for a 24,000-acre conservation easement in Florida's Glades County was withdrawn late Friday by the Department of Environmental Protection. The proposed conservation easement, priced at $24 million in taxpayer funds, would have allowed commercial water well fields, oil and gas drilling and construction of reservoirs on 24,000 acres of land currently used for cattle ranching and hunting.
"The decision to withdraw the proposal is an important victory for the Florida Water Coalition," said David Guest, managing attorney of Earthjustice's Tallahassee office. "This fiasco puts the state on notice that there will be attempts to get money from the state for conservation without actually protecting anything."
The proposed Glades County easement would have covered 24,000 acres in the Fisheating Creek area, on land owned by agricultural giant Lykes Bros. Inc. Although the purpose of the easement was to protect the delicate wetlands, forest and native range ecosystems, the Department of Environmental Protection proposed to allow Lykes to engage in many damaging activities on the land, including:
"This land is certainly worthy of preservation," said Manley Fuller, President of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "We hope and expect that the state will renegotiate the easement so that the ecological values and water resources that give it value are truly protected."
Conservation easements are, in principle, voluntary legal agreements between landowners and a land trust or government agency that permanently limit land uses in order to protect wildlife habitat and other natural resources, while allowing certain carefully planned activities that will not damage these conservation values. The Fisheating Creek proposal would limited Lykes' ability to use the land for certain agricultural activities and limited the number of times that the land could be subdivided and sold.
"This proposal wasn't a conservation easement, it was a development permit, with taxpayers footing the bill," said Nina Baliga of the Florida Public Interest Research Group. "Allowing this proposal to go forward would have undermined the very concept of the conservation easement, and opened the door to all sorts of shady deals aimed at exploiting our natural heritage."