Celebrate Gopher Tortoise Day with Friends of Split Oak – April 10th

Festivities are on April 10th, 2019 from 1-5pm at Split Oak’s Main Entrance, 12175 Clapp Simms Duda Road, Orlando, FL

NARCOOSSEE- Learn about gopher tortoises and their habitat with hands-on activities: science, arts, native plants, nature walks on the Florida National Scenic Trail at Split Oak Forest. Meet Sheldon, an ambassador gopher tortoise! Events will be taking place all afternoon from 1-5. This event is free and open to the public.

An adult gopher tortoise walks across Split Oak Forest’s Athena’s Meadow toward photographer Michael Snyder.

Gopher tortoises were relocated to Split Oak Forest when their homes were destroyed elsewhere in Central Florida to make way for development. Money from the now-defunct gopher tortoise entombment program was also used to purchase Split Oak Forest originally. Split Oak Forest is the perfect place to celebrate these amazing, long-lived herbivores.”

Valerie Anderson, President, Friends of Split Oak Forest

Gopher Tortoise Day increases awareness of this fascinating creature and the need to protect its habitat. Gopher tortoises are listed Threatened by the State of Florida and are experiencing rapid habitat loss. Gopher tortoises are a keystone species of North America’s longleaf pine forest, providing refuge for over 350 other species in their burrow, including native bees. Gopher Tortoise Day, April 10th, was designated by the Gopher Tortoise Council as an annual celebration of gopher tortoises.

The two major threats to gopher tortoises are habitat loss due to development and road mortality, for example, getting hit by cars. Gopher tortoises require open, dry, sandy upland habitats with abundant low-growing vegetation such as pine flatwoods, scrub, and coastal dunes. Split Oak contains all of those habitats except coastal dunes. Gopher tortoise habitat requires regular and careful management . Gopher tortoises have coexisted with native plants and animals of Florida for centuries.

Participating organizations include:

Press Release [odt] [pdf] | Official Event Page

About Friends of Split Oak Forest: Friends of Split Oak was founded in 2018 in response to plans by the Osceola Expressway Authority to build the Osceola Parkway Extension right through Split Oak to serve Tavistock’s Sunbridge development. Friends of Split Oak Forest is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to the health and integrity of Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area, which is a 1700-acre conservation area managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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Press Release: Lawsuit Challenges Osceola’s Support of Road Through Split Oak Forest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE [PDF]

Lawsuit claims that the decision was made in violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law

KISSIMMEE-  The first hearing for this lawsuit is scheduled for January 2, 2019, 2:00 pm in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, Osceola County Courthouse, Room 6A in Kissimmee, Florida.

In their most recent filings with the court, Friends of Split Oak Forest, Speak Up Wekiva and Valerie Anderson (Plaintiffs) allege that the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners (Defendant) violated “Florida’s Sunshine Law” when they issued official support for a major expressway route through Split Oak Forest at the request of Tavistock Development Company last April.

Plaintiffs contend that Osceola County officials took action on a proposition before the Board without allowing the public a fair opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, in violation of Florida Statutes Chapter 286.0114(2). Plaintiffs assert that the Board Chairman, Fred Hawkins, Jr., intentionally took steps to prevent the public from knowing that the proposition would be considered for approval at the April 16 meeting.

Gopher tortoise, a threatened species. Gopher tortoises were relocated to Split Oak from development sites. Photo: Robert Sena / Split Oak Forest.

The Government-in-the-Sunshine Law was enacted in 1967 and is designed to protect the public’s ability to access governmental meetings and be heard before decisions are made by elected officials. “It is important that local governments follow the law so that citizens can effectively engage with their government,” said Valerie Anderson, President of Friends of Split Oak Forest and one of the plaintiffs. The Friends of Split Oak Forest and Speak Up Wekiva have come forward to fight for the public’s right to be heard.

Background: Osceola County partnered with Orange County to purchase Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area in 1994 using public funding. Use of this type of funding required that the Counties agree to protect the lands forever (“in perpetuity”) for mitigation and conservation. The Deed Restrictions pursuant to the Grant Award Agreement, recorded in April of 1994, state:

“The Project Site shall be managed only for the conservation, protection and enhancement of natural and historical resources and for passive, natural resource-based public outdoor recreation which is compatible with the conservation, protection and enhancement of the Project Site.”

The original Deed Restrictions over this property are still in full force and effect. This property is also protected by various Conservation Easements which have their own set of legal conditions and limitations according to Florida Statutes.

During the past ten years, Osceola County, through the Osceola County Expressway Authority, has consistently favored and approved proposed Osceola Parkway Extension routes that would slash through Split Oak Forest in violation of the explicit Deed Restrictions, the clear intent of the original agreements and the public trust.

On April 16, 2018, the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners voiced their support of an alignment of the Osceola Parkway Extension through Split Oak Forest. The roadway project is currently in the process of a Project Development & Engineering Study by the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

Contact: Valerie Anderson, (386) 852-2539, valerie@friendsofsplitoak.org, website: friendsofsplitoak.org

Osceola Soil and Water Conservation District opposes road through Split Oak

The Osceola Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) created a resolution opposing the Osceola Parkway Extension through Split Oak Forest. The Osceola SWCD is tasked with protecting the soil and water of Osceola County and promoting conservation.

The CFX Board has alternate routes around the park that would leave this area undisturbed. We urge them to respect the irreplaceable land and select a different path,” says Larry Schneck, Chairman of Osceola SWCD

OSWCD Press Release Split Oak Forest