In the largest conservation win of its kind in over a decade, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), in collaboration with partner organizations, has successfully protected Lake Wimico, a crucial and biodiverse 20,161-acre piece of land in northwest Florida that surrounds the 4,000-acre lake after which the parcel is named.
The safeguarding of Lake Wimico helps preserve and protect the water quality of the highly productive Apalachicola River, Apalachicola Bay and Gulf of Mexico. It creates a protected refuge for resident and migratory wildlife, including many federally and state listed imperiled species. The lake and its surrounding lands and waters are home to the Florida black bear, manatee, bald eagle, osprey, swallow-tailed kite, many species of wading and shore birds, and turtles. Its water flow into Apalachicola Bay is critical to nurseries of migrating fish and oyster populations. Additionally, the conservation of the cypress-dominated swamps, marshes and water flow help ensure a resilient landscape that provides adaptation to impacts of climate change and sea level rise, and habitat for ecological communities.
This freshwater wetland habitat in Florida’s panhandle has been identified repeatedly over the past fifty years as an area of critical conservation significance for preservation, and is a priority parcel with the state’s Florida Forever Program. With this acquisition, the land has now been protected in perpetuity as a result of the efforts of TNC and partners, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).
“The protection of Lake Wimico has been a goal for TNC and its partner organizations for many years and represents an immensely important conservation win. The area is an ecological gem; truly reflective of Florida’s wild and iconic places. Through the leadership and action of the Governor’s office, the perseverance of our staff, and the collaboration of our partners, we can now ensure the protection of this vast and essential freshwater habitat that helps safeguard the best possible future for the region,” said Temperince Morgan, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Florida.
TNC acquired the Lake Wimico property using funds from the NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF), signaling the largest NFWF/GEBF acquisition to date. The GEBF receives and administers funding resulting from Deepwater Horizon criminal penalties, to be used for the benefit of natural resources.
Upon completion of the purchase TNC immediately donated the property to the State of Florida through DEP, for ongoing conservation, management, and restoration.
With the Lake Wimico property, TNC and its partners have expanded an existing tapestry of connected lands to over 1 million acres in total, resulting in one of the most diverse and important natural protected areas along the Gulf Coast. This purchase is further evidence of tangible progress toward restoration of the Gulf of Mexico, as the tenth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill approaches.
“Collaboration of land managers is a critical element of resilience following disasters. Through the result of a long-standing commitment between DEP, The Nature Conservancy, FWC and NFWF, this funding has supported a vital acquisition in a unique region that exemplifies Florida.” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “Partnership is critical to these statewide efforts that will preserve and protect these critical lands in the Apalachicola Basin.
“The acquisition and management of the Lake Wimico parcel represents a crucial investment in the ongoing efforts to restore hydrology and improve habitats in the lower Apalachicola River watershed and Apalachicola Bay,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Our ongoing partnerships with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and The Nature Conservancy are key to advancing on-the-ground conservation investments that will have lasting benefits for fish, wildlife, and people.”
Located adjacent to FWC’s Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area (ARWEA) on its eastern border and FWC’s Box-R Wildlife Management Area (Box-R WMA) along its southern border, the management and restoration activities on these Areas will be expanded to include the purchased property, to restore natural communities to their historic condition.
“The FWC applauds our many partners who have made this long-sought-after acquisition a reality, and we are excited this large tract of wetlands will be added to the Box-R Wildlife Management Area and Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area,” noted Dr. Thomas Eason, Assistant Executive Director, FWC. “This acquisition will help protect the water quality and freshwater flows into the Apalachicola River, Apalachicola Bay, and the greater Gulf of Mexico. It also will provide habitat critical to many rare plants and animals, and expand recreational opportunities for visitors.”
The property lies within the St. Joe Timberland Florida Forever project and is part of a recognized Northwest Florida Greenway, a long-standing joint effort between many State of Florida agencies and the Department of Defense (DOD), to establish a conservation, wildlife, and military fly-over corridor, through a portion of the Florida panhandle.
The protection of Lake Wimico continues the dedication of partners to support the species-rich Apalachicola biodiversity hotspot, one of only a handful of hotspots in the United States.
TNC purchased the property from Lake Wimico Land Company, LLC, a subsidiary of AgReserves, Inc. “As farmers and ranchers, we work with natural systems every day, so we take a long-term view in everything we do,” said Don Sleight, AgReserves CEO. “To work with The Nature Conservancy and their partners to see that this property will be preserved for future generations to enjoy is gratifying for us.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories—37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners—we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s principal environmental agency, created to protect, conserve and manage Florida’s environment and natural resources. The department enforces federal and state environmental laws, protects Florida’s air and water quality, cleans up pollution, regulates solid waste management, promotes pollution prevention and acquires environmentally sensitive lands for preservation. The agency also maintains a statewide system of parks, trails and aquatic preserves. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Division of State Lands is Florida’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship. Florida Forever is the state’s conservation and recreation lands acquisition program, a blueprint for conserving our natural resources and renewing our commitment to conserve our natural and cultural heritage.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission manages fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people, balancing the needs of fish and wildlife species and the habitats that support them with the needs of Florida’s growing population and record number of visitors.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation's fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 4,500 organizations and committed more than $5.3 billion to conservation projects. Learn more at their website.