The Bald Eagle is one of the many endangered species to inhabit Hatchineha Ranch, which has been protected by The Nature Conservancy and Hatchineha Ranch LLC. Photo: Paul Resh..
The Nature Conservancy and Hatchineha Ranch LLC just announced that they have protected a 5,134 acre “evironmental jewel” in Central Florida in the United States.
Hatchineha Ranch, 65 miles east of Tampa and 40 miles south of Orlando, is located within one of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered plant and animal species in the United States.
The site had been proposed for “Hatchineha Lakes” - a development that, if approved, would have included 5,200 homes and apartments, a small commercial development and an 18-hole golf course.
Now the land will be restored and preserved.
“This acquisition not only preserves an outstanding natural landscape from development, it connects a complex of conservation lands critical for protection of the headwaters of the Kissimmee River and the Everglades basin,” said Jeff Danter, The Nature Conservancy’s state director.
“We are grateful to the owner for helping us to implement our primary strategy for the northern Everglades, which is to protect natural landscapes with high biological diversity and opportunities for hydrological restoration.”
The deal, which has been in negotiation for the past couple of months, has been labelled “a pretty creative deal” by Ernie Cox, Hatchineha Lakes representative.
As part of the deal, Hatchineha Ranch LLC donated 1,130 acres of the ranch to the Conservancy and the Conservancy purchased a partial interest in the remaining 4,004 acres.
The Nature Conservancy explains that, as tenants in common, the Conservancy and Hatchineha Ranch LLC will jointly pursue multiple strategies for long-term conservation, including wetlands mitigation, conservation banking for imperiled species, and the sale of lands to government agencies as additions to adjacent public holdings.
Cox hopes the deal will provide an example for other landowners.
“If we can monetize restoration efforts, it will offer a stronger incentive,” he said.
Past Conservation Attempts
This is not the first time protection has been sought on the land. The Polk County Board of Commissioners and the South Florida Water Management District have been trying for years to purchase the land for preservation.
“This is fantastic news for environmental lands preservation in Polk County,” said Jeff Spence, Polk County Natural Resources Division director. “Due to its key location, outstanding beauty and great diversity, the county had targeted this particular piece of property for preservation more than 15 years ago. Several past attempts to acquire it were unsuccessful.”
Steve Morrison, who grew up on the Lake Wales Ridge and manages The Nature Conservancy’s Tiger Creek Preserve shares this sentiment.
“This is such great news. I’ve had my heart broken by that place so many times,” he said.
“We’ve tried for so many years to get it into conservation, and every time it would sell again for more money, I would think, ‘There it goes’.”
Numerous Restoration Opportunities
The Nature Conservancy says there are numerous opportunities for habitat restoration including:
- the restoration of cutthroat grass seeps, an imperiled natural community that has been affected by ditching for agricultural purposes
- the restoration of Catfish Creek, a historical tributary of the Kissimmee River which was diverted decades ago for the creation of pasture and sod farming
Among the endangered species that inhabit the site include the Bald Eagle, Florida scrub-jay, sand skink, crested caracara, gopher tortoise and southeastern kestrel. Also, the Florida panther has been said to use the land at some point.
Jeff Danter labelled the purchase as “one of the most significant acquisitions in the Florida chapter’s history,”.