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Conservation group plots wildlife corridor through Putnam County

Porter Property.JPG
North Florida Land Trust
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The North Florida Land Trust hopes the conserved land will form part of a wildlife corridor for migrating animals between the Osceola National Forest and the Ocala National Forest.

The conservation nonprofit North Florida Land Trust has expanded into Putnam County with the purchase of nearly 430 acres of land.

The trust bought 428 acres from a private seller for a little over $200,000, expanding its conservation holdings, including owned property, easements and land it facilitates for other entities to 30,000 acres.

The parcel is between much larger conservation areas like Etoniah Creek State Forest and the University of Florida's Ordway Swisher Biological Research Station.

NFLT President Jim McCarthy says the location is perfect because of its proximity to other preservation sites — especially the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a loosely connected quilt of national and state parks, open land and undeveloped wilderness covering millions of acres from the Everglades to the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge on the Florida-Georgia line.

"It's close enough, frankly, that you're still gonna have migrating wildlife, even the Florida black bear," he said. "They don't have a tendency to pay attention to corridor lines."

Porter Property.JPG
North Florida Land Trust
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The land is mostly scrub and sandhills with some forested wetlands, with a mile of shoreline along Lake Grandin, habitats McCarthy says favor rare species such as the gopher tortoise and American Kestrel.

The relative small size of the parcel in relation to other conservation areas doesn't really matter, according to McCarthy. As long as conservation sites are bundled near each other, greater outcomes for wildlife can be reached regardless of ownership. By staving off development in patchwork sections, swatches of land can be provided for wildlife.

"Let's put it this way: If they're not able to migrate within a wildlife corridor, they're going to interact with human beings on a more regular basis, and that produces problems for humans as well."

Wildlife incursions into Jacksonville are not unheard of. Wild boars have trampled into Arlington and Sweetwater neighborhoods, causing property damage, while black bears have wandered into even densely populated pockets of the city. in 2014, a black bear that washed up in Jacksonville Beach had to be euthanized after repeated outings into residential areas.

McCarthy says his group purchased the land at a significant discount from the Eugene B. Porter Revocable Trust, granting a five-year carry-forward tax deduction on the sale.

Wildlife Corridor.JPG
University of Florida Center for Landscape Conservation Planning
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Along with conservation land easements, it's an incentive in the tax code that allows conservation efforts to entice property holders to turn over their land for preservation rather than resale to developers.

"We're open to anybody who has an interest in conserving their property," McCarthy said.

The IRS in 2019 named bogus conservation easements one of the worst tax schemes, costing billions in improper tax write-offs, while noting the public value of legitimate conservation efforts.

Conservation easements tied to the wildlife corridor are managed and overseen by a combination of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.