East Central Florida Land Protection Working Group

First meeting, August 16, 2018

At a meeting with Senator Linda Stewart, I explained how land trusts advocate for specific parcels to be purchased (or easements purchased) by state and federal agencies. Senator Stewart requested that we identify land that should be protected in East Orange County and Seminole County, specifically within her district.

Initial focal area, Florida State Senate District 13
Initial focal area, Florida State Senate District 13

The initial focus of the group will to be identify suitable properties for Senator Stewart before she enters the session. We will then assess each property for conservation value, contact the landowners, match properties with the best method of protection (agency, funding, and protection type), and advocate for the protection of the properties we select.

Problem: The Narrowing Wildlife Corridor in East Orange County

There is a currently-functioning wildlife corridor from Lake Okeechobee east of Orlando to the Ocala National Forest. Senator Stewart’s district is a key part of this corridor. In Senator Stewart’s district it is approximately 20 miles wide on her southern boundary then narrows to 10 miles wide on her northern boundary. The current corridor is in purple below:

Current Wildlife Corridor in Florida Senate District 13

Several planned developments, many of them being challenged in court, would result in a cutting the corridor in half in the north and to 16% of its original width in the south.

Future wildlife corridor in Florida Senate District 15 if all planned developments are built out

This potential future scenario would leave wildlife, such as gopher tortoises, Florida panthers, and Florida black bear isolated and unable to move between north and south Florida.1 It would also orphan several public conservation areas, reducing their conservation value.

Solution: Oppose urban sprawl

1. By defending county-level boundaries that restrict development

Called urban service areas, rural boundaries, or urban growth boundaries, these areas create barriers for developers who wish to build outside of these areas. Counties that do not have these boundaries should be encouraged to implement them. A developer who wishes to weaken a boundary will request an amendment of the target county’s Comprehensive Plan. This amendment would move the boundary. For example:

  • Tavistock/Deseret have gotten Osceola County to move their Urban Growth Boundary twice in the past two years; first for the Northeast District and second for the North Ranch. The Boundary now reaches to the Osceola/Brevard County line.
  • Chris Dorworth tried this week to get Seminole County to move its rural boundary to include his proposed development River Cross. It failed at the Comprehensive Plan amendment step because the four present Seminole County Commissioners voted against it.

Moving the boundaries requires a vote of the county commission. Nonprofit organizations can educate voters about the benefits of these boundaries and ask elected officials and candidates whether they will move their county’s boundary if asked by a developer. Nonprofits can also oppose ordinances that would change or weaken the boundary.2 Other types of organizations and individuals can endorse candidates that commit to holding firm on the county’s boundary and engage in unrestricted lobbying to prevent changes in their county’s boundary.

2. By forcing the legislature to fully fund Florida Forever and advocating for the purchase of land within this corridor that is under high development pressure

Our working group will pursue the latter half of this strategy to prevent the dire consequences of the narrowing of this corridor. The first half of the strategy is currently being vigilantly pursued by several other organizations.

Future Work

I predict that this working group will apply the above procedure to land in the wider Central Florida region in the future. The map below delineates a rough Area of Interest:

Rough sketch of the East Central Florida Land Protection Working Group’s Area of Interest

Our initial working group is composed of:

  • Valerie Anderson, President, Friends of Split Oak Forest
  • Marge Holt, Conservation Chair, Central Florida Sierra Club Group
  • Eugene Stoccardo, League of Women Voters of Orange County
  • Marty Sullivan, League of Women Voters of Florida

I solicited input from the Florida Native Plant Society and Save Orange County. Please contact me if you:

  • know of a willing seller within our Area of Interest
  • think of an organization that would like to be a part of the working group
  • know a person or an organization that would know of property that should be protected within our Area of Interest
  1. This paper details the importance of the Highlands-Glades bear population
  2. The IRS requires nonprofits to limit direct lobbying to a percentage of their expenses. This page has more information.