The North Florida Land Trust tripled its lifetime land ownership in 2016, preserving more than 12,000 acres of undeveloped terrain.
Land Trust Executive Director Jim McCarthy said it was the best year in the environmental organization’s 18 years.
Standing at the Ribault Monument atop the St. Johns Bluff Monday, McCarthy rattled off some newly-purchased tracts of land within eyeshot, including one containing a Spanish-American War fort, another that’ll eventually become part of a new national nature trail and more territory in the Timucuan Ecological Preserve.
From 1999 — when the trust was founded — through 2015, the land trust purchased more than 6,000 acres. That number grew to more than 18,000 acres in 2016.
McCarthy, who took over as director in 2014, credited his staff for much of the organization’s success.
“I think it’s largely because we’re really focused. We’ve spent some time on just what is the issue for us,” McCarthy said. “What are we trying to do? The bottom line for us is we have to acquire more land and we have to acquire it now.”
Conservation land buying has become more controversial since Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment diverting more tax dollars to the preservation program Florida Forever.
McCarthy accuses lawmakers of using too much of that new revenue on managing existing state lands and not enough on buying new acreage.
“There hasn't been any money available to us from Florida Forever, from the 2014 version of Amendment 1,” he said. “On the other hand, it caused us at the end of 2015 to really focus on ‘OK, how else can we fund things?’ ”
Despite not receiving the extra state funds, McCarthy expects to double 2016’s successes this year.
McCarthy said the trust is rallying more and more support from land developers. He said if you can convince people of the real monetary value of the natural world, they’ll be more likely to sell their undeveloped property to the trust.