Tag Archives: Threatened species

Eglin AFB Operations Plan for Military Training on Blackwater River State Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest

I have excerpted the Annual Operations Plan (and agreement between Eglin AFB and the Florida Department of Agriculture) in the sister blog http://www.letterstograsi-flofficials.com.  It is too long for me to retype it here.

You can also view the 14 page plan at http://www.pnj.com/interactive/article/99999999/NEWS12/131017014/Timeline-Eglin-s-proposed-military-training-Blackwater-River-State-Forest?nclick_check=1

Listed species – Blackwater River State Forest

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Gopher Tortoise

Blackwater River State Forest is home to many species on the federally endangered and threatened list.

  • 1 Fish
  • 5  Amphibians
  • 8 Reptiles
  • 5 Birds
  • 3 Mammals
  • 54 Invertebrates
  • 19 Plants and Lichens

The Nature Conservancy says of Blackwater River State Park:

“Considered by many as Florida’s premier state forest, Blackwater River State Forest — 209,571 acres and counting — is the bedrock of a conservation complex that hosts an amazing 300 species of birds and 2,500 species of plants.  One of the most biologically rich areas in the US, the forest is part of a vital nature corridor that gently rolls from Conecuh National Forest along the Florida-Alabama line to the Gulf of Mexico.”

“The state forest is a significant piece of the largest, continuous longleaf pine/wiregrass forest complex in the world. Once blanketing the entire southeastern United States, only 3 percent of that vast forest survives today.

For more:  see http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates.

Conclusion – Part IX of 9

This is available in full at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/AcqHistory.htm.   Authors  James A Farr and O Greg Brock are with the Florida Division of State Lands.

 

Florida continues to lead the nation in purchasing property to protect natural resources and provide resource-based recreation.  Our programs have been successful for many reasons, the most important of which is the enthusiastic support, even demands, of our citizenry, who do not have to live in Florida for very long to notice treasured areas being lost to development at the alarming rate of 165,000 acres each year (an average of 453 acres daily) and who are keenly aware of the need to preserve our natural areas to provide a basis for our tourism-based economy.   Our political leaders have recognized the popularity of natural resource protection and have responded with a series of land conservation programs spanning more than four decades.   funding for our programs has been based primarily on activities that have resulted in the need for conservation:  documentary stamp taxes on real estate transactions, which are becoming increasingly numerous as development continues, and severance taxes on environmentally damaging mineral extraction activities.

Our programs invite public participation throughout the process, beginning with the ability of anyone to submit an application, through the project evaluation and selection process, the development of management plans, and oversight of how the lands are managed.  there are public conservation and resource-based recreation lands in each of our 67 counties, with large tracts accessible to all citizens within relatively short distances.   Our citizens have clearly been rewarded for their support and participation with a myriad of conservation lands available for their enjoyment.

Finally, and most importantly, we have been successful in preserving for posterity a substantial portion of our natural heritage.  Our natural lands contain hundreds of listed species, our most imperiled vegetative communities, significant cultural and historical sites, watersheds and water recharge areas.  Our lands contain rivers, lakes, springs, beaches, central Florida scrub, north Florida sandhills, significant wetlands, and an incredible variety of upland habitats.   They provide us a myriad of recreational opportunities, including nature study, camping, hiking, swimming, canoeing, hunting and fishing.   Our 159-unit system of State Parks has twice been awarded the National Recreation and Parks Association’s Gold Medal Award, honoring Florida as the Nation’s “Best State Park Service.”  through our environmental land acquisition efforts we are able to embark on restoration of large natural areas like the Florida Everglades and north Florida longleaf pine habitats.  Our citizens, their descendents, and our visitors have all gained a heightened quality of life.

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS – Part VIII of 9

This is available in full from http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/AcqHistory.htm,  Authors are James A Farr and O Greg Brock, Florida Division of State Lands.

We could not tell a complete story of successful land acquisition programs in Florida without mentioning the extraordinary role of local governments.  Since 1972, 29 of Florida’s 67 counties, eight municipalities, and the Lake County Water Authority have developed their own local land acquisition programs.   Most of these have resulted from local referendums in which citizens have voted overwhelmingly to increase their sales taxes or property taxes to fund land acquisition and management.  Much of the incentive for these programs has come from the ability of local governments to receive matching funds from state programs like CARL, Florida forever, the Florida Communities Trust and Water Management Districts to assist in purchasing lands of local and regional significance.  Local governments in Florida have raised more than $2 billion and have been responsible for the purchase of approximately 375,000 acres of conservation and resource-based recreation lands, an astonishing feat in this era of tax reform and private property rights.

MANAGEMENT OF STATE CONSERVATION LANDS Part VII of 9

This can also be viewed on http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands.AcqHistory.htm.  Authors are  James A. Farr and O. Greg Brock, Florida Division of State Lands

Every parcel of state-owned conservation and resource-based recreat land must have a manger assigned to it.   We have four primary land managers within the state system.  The Division of Recreation and Parks within DEP manages our state park system, which includes state parks, state recreation areas and state preserves.   The Office of coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas, also in DEP, manages aquatic preserves, our three National Estuarine Research Reserves and the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary.  The Division of Forestry, housed in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages the state forest system.  Finally, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (formerly the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, but now merged with the former Marine Fisheries Commission) manages Wildlife Management Areas, with an emphasis on hunting, and Wildlife and Environmental Areas, with an emphasis on protecting listed species.   The Division of Historical Resources within the Department of State also manages a few historical and archaeological sites around the state, and DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails manages the Cross Florida Greenway State Recreation and Conservation Area.

The purpose for which a project is purchased is identified as part of the project evaluation process, and the manager is confirmed by the Governor and Cabinet when the acquisition is approved.   After receiving a lease from DEP’s Bureau of Public Land Administration, the land manager has one year to develop a management plan for a new management unit or an amendment to the management plan of an existing unit.  The management planning process involves holding the public meetings in which citizens living near the park, forest, preserve, reserve or wildlife area are given the opportunity to participate in deciding how a parcel will be managed. 

The management plans themselves identify in much greater detail the natural resources on the site, outline the management needs of the site and how those needs will be addressed, provide site plans for any proposed development (cabins, camping areas, ranger residences, trails, roads, bathhouses, etc.) and provide an estimate of the amount of funding and personnel that will be needed for optimal management of the site.   Upon completion, the management plan must be submitted to an approved by the Acquisition and Restoration Council, who ensure that the sensitive natural resources on the property will be protected.

Land Management Review Team

As part of the ongoing process to provide accountability to the public for proper management of state-owned conservation lands, the 1997 Florida Legislature added a new process to inspect parks, forests, wildlife areas and buffer preserves to ensure that they are being managed appropriately in accordance with their acquisition purposes and management plans.  The Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for establishing regional Land Management Review Teams to inspect and evaluate management of units of our state-owned conservation lands inventory.   The review teams consist of an individual from the county or local community  in which the parcel or project is located and who is selected by the county commission in the county which is most affected by the acquisition; individuals from the Division of Recreation and Parks, the Division of Forestry, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; an individual from DEP’s district regulatory office in which the parcel is located; a private land manager, a member of the local soil and water conservation district board of supervisors; and a member of a conservation organization.

The review teams are required to visit and report on all of our management units great than 1000 acres in size every five years and may also inspect smaller units as time permits.   We currently have approximately 485 State Parks, State Forests, Wildlife Management Areas, State Buffer Preserves, and other environmental and cultural management units in Florida (including several jointly owned with local government, water management district, and other partners), of which 148 are greater than 1000 acres in size.   All 148 of these have been inspected at least once, and we are in the process of visiting all of them a second time.   We have also inspected approximately 40 of the smaller units.

The Department of Environmental Protection compiles the results of the site inspections into an annual report for the Governor and Cabinet.  Prior to being presented to the Cabinet in October, DEP staff also makes a presentation at a public meeting of the Acquisition and Restoration Council.  Members of the general public have an opportunity to comment on Land Management Review Team findings at both the ARC and Cabinet meetings.

Management Funding

Funding for land management prior to Preservation 2000 was historically from a hodge-podge of individual trust funds (State Park Trust Fund, Division of Forestry’s Incidental Trust Fund, State Game Trust Fund, etc.), unpredictable general revenue appropriations to individual managing agencies and various other state and federal funds.   We were often criticized, perhaps fairly, for purchasing more land than we were able to manage.  Certainly management needs exceeded the available funding.   It was also difficult for managing agencies to begin to take care of newly-acquired lands and open them to the public because they could not get management money until the next time the legislature was in session.

Management funding became more timely and more stable under Preservation 2000 with a system that continues today.   First, with the majority of acquisition funds now coming either from the sale of bonds or directly from general revenue, the old CARL Trust Fund began to be used as a source of funding for land management.  Bond funds cannot be used for land management.   The old mixture of trust funds and other assorted funds still exists, but there is now a more reliable recurring source of revenue for land management.

The management funds are distributed among managing agencies in accordance with the number of acres they manage, weighted by the intensity of management required by some sites. In particular, the division of Recreation and Parks receives three times the amount per acres for managing state parks, which typically require more infrastructure and facilities development, more personnel, and more active supervision of visitors.  At the beginning of each fiscal year (July 1 of each year), 90 percent of available long-term management funds are distributed among the managing agencies for ongoing management of their lands.  Ten percent is held in reserve for managing historical resources and for any special management needs.   any funds from this reserve that are not spent by April 1 of each year are distributed among all managing agencies based on the weighted formula used at the beginning of the fiscal year.

We have also instituted a procedure for allocating interim management funds to land management agencies as soon as they execute their lease from the Division of State Palnds.  these interim management funds allow the managing agencies to begin taking care of their lands as soon as they receive them in their system rather than having to wait until the lands are included in the next round of long-term management fund allocation.  Immediate needs typically include fencing and various activities necessary to prepare a site to accept visitors.

There are still insufficient management funds for ideal management of all of our conservation lands, as outlined in the long-term plans for site development and management in individual land management plans, but was have significantly improved management funding since enacting the Preservation 2000 Act.  Although funding shortages are stillthe primary reason that our parks, forests, wildlife areas and buffer preserves are not managed to their full potential, all of our conservation lands are being adequately managed in conformance with the reasons for which we bought them, and all are open to the public.

Gopher Tortoise, Tate’s Hell State Forest

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The gopher tortoise is on the threatened list and both the turtle and its burrow are protected by the state. (For regulation and penalties for destroying of burrows see Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website, Wildlife and Habitat Category.) Three hundred and fifty (350) species of animals depend on the burrows of the gopher tortoise. Because of this, the tortoise is considered a keystone species. They prefer upland forests, much more common in Blackwater River State Forest than Tate’s Hell.

STEPS TO ACQUISITION – Part VI of 9 parts

This is also available on http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/AcqHistory.htm  Authors are James A. Farr and O. Greg Brock, Florida Division of State Lands.

The actual acquisition process occurs in several discrete steps spelled out in detail in Chapter 259, Florida Statues, and by administrative rule.

After a project is approved by the Governor and Cabinet, and if it is deemed to be sufficiently important for acquisition to begin on at least one of the ownerships within the project, it is given to our Bureau of Survey and Mapping for title research and preparation of an appraisal map.  The appraisal map is not a survey, but rather is based on plats, aerial phointerpretation and other information available from public records.  It typically delineates wetland and upland acreages, known easements on the property, and any other features that might affect the value of the land.

The complete appraisal map is then given to the Bureau of Appraisal.   Appraisals are conducted by private-sector professionally-licensed property appraisers under contract to the state.  For parcels whose value is estimated to be $1,000,000 or less, one appraiser is used.   For parcels values above $1,000,000, two independent appraisers are used.  Their appraisals are then submitted to a third review appraiser, also under contract to the state, who evaluated the work to ensure compliance with statutory and rule requirements and to make a professional judgment as to suitability of comparable sales and other factors.  The review appraiser then submits the finished report to the Bureau.  If the higher of two appraisals exceeds the lower by more than 20 percent, a third appraiser may be asked to provide another opinion.   The higher of the two appraisals or the higher of the two closest appraisals in the event of a third appraisal becomes the maximum price that we are allowed to pay for the property unless a majority of the Governor and Cabinet votes to exceed that maximum.   Under Florida law, the results of the appraisals and the establishment of the maximum price we can pay are not revealed to the potential seller until two weeks prior to the meeting of the Governor and Cabinet at which approval of the purchase will be considered.

The appraisal results are given to an acquisition agent in our Bureau of Land Acquisition.  The agent then develops a negotiation strategy that must be approved by management. This strategy spells out the opening offer and the maximum that we will offer.  The Governor and Cabinet typically do not like to pay the full appraisal value of property, so the Bureau must balance the importance of the resources we wish to protect with the insistence by our elected officials that we negotiate a good deal for the State.  Each step in the negotiation itself (initial offer, counteroffers and final agreed upon price) is done in writing.   When the negotiations are complete, the acquisition agent, with our legal staff, prepares a contract for sale that must be agreed to by both parties.

We must emphasize that Florida’s acquisition program depend on willing sellers.  Although we have the statutory authority to use the power of eminent domain to acquire conservation land under certain circumstances, we have only done so very rarely, and then very reluctantly.   In the vast majority of cases, if an owner is unwilling to sell his or her land, we will not pursue it.

If the final negotiated purchase price exceeds $250,000, the acquisition must be approved by the Governor and Cabinet at one of their biweekly public meetings.   The Cabinet and their staff receive agenda packages with details of the property being acquired, assignment of a manger, negotiation steps, final price, and the results of the appraisals.  It is at this time that the maximum price the state could pay is revealed publicly.

When the Cabinet approves the purchase, the acquisition package then goes to our closing agents.  It is at this time that a final survey is done, any title problems are resolved, and an environmental site assessment is performed to identify and remove any potential hazardous substances on site.   The survey determines the final acreage, and the purchase price is adjusted to reflect deviation from the acreage estimated from the original appraisal map.  Finally, the state pays the landowner and takes title to the property.

The final step in the acquisition process is to lease the property to the designed manager of the property.  This is done by the Bureau of Public Land Administration, which oversees all property the state owns, including conservation lands, submerged lands, and any other land owned by the state for other purposes (schools, prisons, state office buildings, etc.)