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Florida Forever Acquisition Protects Land Adjacent To Naval Air Station Whiting Field

June 10, 2009

~Nearly 1,400 acre acquisition conserves land, protects military mission~

florida-big-coldwater-creek
TALLAHASSEE - Governor Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet today approved the purchase of nearly 1,400 acres in the Clear Creek/Whiting Field Florida Forever project - building on the connection between Naval Air Station Whiting Field and Blackwater River State Forest in Santa Rosa County. The property, to be purchased from The Nature Conservancy, will be managed by the Division of Forestry as part of the Blackwater River State Forest.

“This acquisition completes 30 percent of the Clear Creek/Whiting Field Florida Forever project - one of the top projects on the Florida Forever ‘A’ priority list,” said DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole. “By helping to create a conservation land buffer to Naval Air Station Whiting Field, protecting surrounding water bodies and allowing for expanded recreation opportunities, this acquisition benefits Florida’s environment, national security, residents and future generations.”

In addition to connecting Naval Air Station Whiting Field with the Blackwater River State Forest, this acquisition will protect Big Coldwater Creek and Earnest Mill Creek, tributaries that flow into Blackwater River, an Outstanding Florida Water, and will allow for the creation of an off-highway vehicle trail system. The protection of this land will also ensure that encroachment along Naval Air Station Whiting Field is prevented. DEP, The Nature Conservancy and Santa Rosa County have an ongoing collaboration with the Department of Defense to protect areas that optimize conservation, recreation and military training benefits at Naval Air Station Whiting Field and nearby Eglin Air Force Base.

“This purchase could not have been accomplished singularly - it is the collective effort of a partnership between Whiting Field, Santa Rosa County, Division of Forestry, Department of Environmental Protection and The Nature Conservancy,” said Callie DeHaven, Public Lands Acquisition Manager for The Nature Conservancy. “Coldwater Creek is a stellar regional conservation and recreation resource and the military mission of Whiting Field is supremely important to national security as well as important to the economy of the region.”

The Clear Creek/Whiting Field Florida Forever project connects to a portion of the Blackwater River State Forest, one of the state’s largest natural areas, and provides habitat for many endangered and threatened plants and animals, including gopher tortoises, southeastern weasel, white-topped pitcher plant, spoon-leaved sundew, panhandle lily and the hairy-peduncled beakrush. Located near Milton in Santa Rosa County, the majority of the project consists of upland pine forests, sand hills, and mature and young pine plantations.

“By adding precious land, natural resources and recreational value to the Blackwater River State Forest, this acquisition is a great benefit to the people of Florida” said Division of Forestry Director, Jim Karels. “Conserving this habitat safeguards water ways, protects wildlife and guarantees the preservation of this property as a public open space for future generations to enjoy. “

To date, the state has invested more than $900 million to acquire more than half a million acres around military bases such as Eglin Air Force Base and Naval Outlying Landing Field Whitehouse. By preventing incompatible encroachment around military bases, through Florida Forever, the amount of contiguous land for wildlife protection and recreational opportunities increases. In return, the military can continue its training missions to ensure the safety of all Americans.

“Naval Air Station Whiting Field relies heavily on its partnership with the state of Florida, and we share a commitment to national security and environmental protection,” said Captain Enrique Sadsad, Commanding Officer. “This acquisition furthers that commitment by protecting the land uses surrounding Whiting Field - preventing development that could compromise the Navy’s mission, and conserving the area’s natural resources.”

Additional Florida Forever land acquisitions near military installations include:

  • Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Okaloosa County: more than 11,000 acres of the Yellow River Ravines Florida Forever project were acquired in October 2007. Located to the north of Eglin AFB, the acquisition provides a wildlife corridor connection from Eglin AFB through Blackwater River State Forest up through the Conecuh National Forest in Southern Alabama.
  • Naval Outlying Landing Field Whitehouse (OLF), Duval County: more than 1,650 acres were acquired in June 2006. This acquisition is in the Northeast Florida Timberlands and Watershed Reserve Florida Forever project. The importance of this acquisition, located on the east side of Whitehouse OLF, is to not only prevent development encroachment for the field, but also protect the gopher tortoise and other natural wildlife found in the area. This property provides a connection from the original Cary State Forest boundary to the Jacksonville Baldwin Rail Trail.
  • Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Walton County: more than 16,000 acres were protected by DEP acquiring a conservation easement in April 2005. The acquisition is in the Nokuse Plantation Florida Forever project located on the east side of Eglin AFB. In 2007 more than 1,000 gopher tortoises were relocated from St. Johns County to Nokuse Plantation and nearly 650,000 longleaf pine seedlings were planted.

Of the 110 projects currently on the Florida Forever list, 27 of them, or one out of every four, has some relation to the military. Florida was the first state in the nation to partner with the U.S. Department of Defense under the federal Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative funds for the dual purpose of environmental protection and national defense. The Panhandle alone is home to five U.S. Air Force and Navy installations and represents one of the largest open air military training areas in the United States. Strategically important for homeland security, the region is also a known biological “hot spot” ideal for preservation and recreation.

The Florida Forever program established by the Florida Legislature in 1999 conserves environmentally sensitive land, restores waterways and preserves important cultural and historical resources. For more information on the Florida Forever program, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/fl_forever.htm.

To view the Clear Creek/Whiting Field Florida Forever project map that outlines the parcels acquired in this purchase, visit
www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/news/2009/06/files/creek.pdf.

To learn more about the Division of Forestry’s Blackwater River State Forest, visit www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/blackwater_river.html. To learn more about Naval Air Station Whiting Field, visit www.cnic.navy.mil/WhitingField/index.htm. To learn more about The Nature Conservancy, visit www.nature.org/florida

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