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Open Space

In This Section:
Public Lands | Military Air Space | Forest Stewardship | Protecting Private Lands

What do you think of when you hear the words "open space"? Wide-open vistas of rolling hills? Thousands of acres of forest? A park with benches, paved paths, and baseball diamonds? A farm with fields full of cows and corn? How about open water--a lake, a bay, or even the Gulf of Mexico?

The ARROW region boasts generous amounts of open space, much of it publicly owned and publicly accessible. The region has quite a few large tracts of privately owned land, too--mostly forest lands used to produce pulpwood and timber. Recently, real estate markets have heated up, especially along the coast. Plans are in the making to convert some large tracts to residential developments.

Open space may appear limitless now, but so did land in south Florida less than a century ago. As the region's population grows, access to large expanses of open space will inevitably shrink. Public lands will get more crowded, and we may see a decline in the quality of the region's hunting, fishing, boating, camping, hiking, and bird-watching opportunities.

Public Lands

Public lands in the ARROW region are owned and managed by a variety of government agencies at the city, county, regional, state, and federal levels. As the map shows, most of the managed lands in the ARROW region are in Franklin, Liberty, and Wakulla counties.

Management plans are formulated for many of these public lands, and public comments are important considerations during the preparation of these plans. Make sure that the managing agencies of lands you use know what you want. Whether it�s hunting, worm-grunting, or habitat protection you want, make your voice heard. Squeaky wheels often get the grease--at least, some grease!

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Military Air Space

A consortium of private interests and public agencies is studying some of the region's open space with two uses in mind. This group wants to preserve land for conservation and reserve airspace for military training and testing.

Proposed Northwest Florida Greenway
The proposed Northwest Florida Greenway would stretch from Eglin Air Force Base in the west to the Apalachicola National Forest in the east

The proposed Northwest Florida Greenway Project covers some 750,000 acres in a 100-mile-long swath across six counties. The proposed corridor will help to protect the region�s renowned biodiversity while providing a place for military training and testing.

The first official step in the project was taken In November 2003, Governor Jeb Bush signed a �Memorandum of Partnership� with the U.S. Department of Defense, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and The Nature Conservancy. In July 2004, the partnership was expanded to include two federal agencies (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service), three state agencies (the Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), the Northwest Florida Water Management District, and Okaloosa County.

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Florida Forest Stewardship Program

The Florida Division of Forestry's Forest Stewardship Program is for people who own at least 25 acres of forested land. Owners of adjacent smaller acreages can combine their holdings in one application. From the program's website:

The Florida Forest Stewardship Program is designed to encourage the state's private non-industrial forest landowners to practice stewardship. Specifically, the program objectives are as follows:

  • Encourage non-industrial landowners to manage their properties according to the multiple-use concept.
  • Increase awareness among the general public of the important amenities that Florida's forestlands, particularly non-industrial private forestlands, provide to all citizens of the state.
  • Improve coordination among natural resource agencies and groups, both public and private, to better serve the state's landowners and achieve common goals.

Landowners will receive:
  • A meeting on their property with a team of resource professionals that will contribute to the development of the plan.
  • A customized management plan that is based on the landowner's objectives. The plan will include forest stand characteristics, property maps, management recommendations, and a five-year time line for future planning.
  • A loose-leaf binder organized to be the landowner's one source of information for managing their property.
  • Documentation of active management on the property that may help reduce tax liability.
  • An opportunity for future public recognition as a certified "Forest Steward".
  • A quarterly Stewardship newsletter developed and distributed by the University of Florida, IFAS Cooperative Extension Service.
  • The peace of mind in knowing that their property is being managed in a sustainable manner.
For more information, contact your county forester through your county's Agricultural Extension office.

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Protecting Private Lands

Especially in other more urbanized areas, there has been increasing interest in protecting and setting aside private lands for open space. This may be done fairly easily if you are a large land owner (e.g., through the Forest Stewardship Program if you have more than 25 acres of forested land) but is not as straightforward in other instances.

Private lands can be protected through:

  • Acquisition. Voters in more than one third of Florida counties (including Brevard and Alachua) have approved programs to finance the purchase of conservation lands. These programs are similar to the state Florida Forever program. The Trust for Public Land offers a 2003 report describing 25 county land-acquisition programs in the state.
  • Land trusts. Private land trusts can acquire and transfer property or development rights in ways that can give tax advantages to the seller. For a list of land trusts in Florida and for more information on land trusts in general, see Land Trust Alliance.
  • Conservation easements. Usually less expensive than buying land outright, a conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement between a landowner and a government or private entity. It's a form of deed restriction by which the landowner gives up specified rights -- for example, rights to use land in ways that would compromise the land's value for conservation. In return, the landowner can stop worrying about the future of the land. In some cases, conservation easements can yield tax benefits such as an income tax deduction and/or reduction in property taxes. The landowner can continue to use the land subject to the easement's terms. A conservation easement should be written by an expert who can tailor it to the particular piece of land, its conservation value, and its owner's needs. Agencies that may be interested in buying conservation easements include the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state�s water management districts, The Nature Conservancy, and local or state land trusts. See Florida Forestry Information: Conservation Easements for more information.

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This page was last modified on : 03/10/2005

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