February 21, 2020

North Florida Land Trust celebrated its 20 years in operation with a special celebration on Wednesday night at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. Andrew Bowman, president of the Land Trust Alliance, was the guest speaker for the event and NFLT President Jim McCarthy delivered the nonprofit’s annual report. One of the things he highlighted was the milestone achieved this year; more than 20,000 acres of land preserved in north Florida.

“I am very proud of our team who worked hard to reach the major milestone of preserving 24,804 acres of land and am thankful for the great partnerships they helped forge that will lead us into another year of successful land conservation,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “The work we do every year sets the stage for future partnerships and acquisitions. We are thankful for the support we receive from the community including our volunteers and donors. We would not be able to do what we do without them.”

Conservation within the Osceola to Ocala (O2O) wildlife corridor was one of the organization’s main missions in 2019 and they will continue to focus on conservation within the O2O. NFLT is leading the partnership, comprised of federal and state agencies and other nonprofits, to preserve land in the 1.6 million-acre network of public and private lands that connect the Ocala and Osceola National Forests. The O2O project was awarded a grant in 2019 from the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund which will directly support the O2O partnership. NFLT was the only applicant in Florida and one of 14 out of 250 chosen to receive the grant.

In 2019, NFLT preserved 482 acres within the O2O in Clay County and helped preserve 3,694 acres of land in Putnam County, called Wetland Preserve, through the Florida Forever program. The Wetland Preserve conservation easement closed in early 2020 which brings NFLT to more than 11,100 acres of land they have helped conserve within the critical wildlife corridor and a grand total of more than 12,600 that the O2O partnership has preserved. The O2O provides important habitat for the Florida Black Bear and numerous endangered species including the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake and gopher tortoises. They received proof last year

 that the preservation within the O2O is working when a red-cockaded woodpecker that had been banded for research purposes was found at Camp Blanding in Clay County. It was the first time the endangered species had moved between one of the national forests and the military installation since they began banding and recording the birds over 25 years ago.

Another of the major accomplishments in the last year was the acquisition of Fish Island in St. Augustine. NFLT, in partnership with the State of Florida, negotiated the deal to purchase the property which was acquired with funds from the Florida Forever program. The State of Florida now owns the property and the City of St. Augustine is managing the land. NFLT also helped preserve more than.

NFLT worked with the City of Fernandina Beach to acquire three properties that will be used as parkland and natural open space within the city limits. They will continue to work with city leaders to identify additional projects for conservation in Fernandina Beach. NFLT also launched the Amelia Forever Campaign to raise money for conservation on Amelia Island.

“Congratulations to North Florida Land Trust for the last 20 years and I look forward to all that will happen in the next 20,” said Bowman. “Land is the answer for building resiliency to climate  change. Between now and 2030, 21 percent of U.S. carbon emissions can be offset by how we manage land. Our mission is to find resources and it is going to take everyone to help make our future success possible.”

In addition to the land they helped conserve, NFLT helped revive a piece of Jacksonville history and opened its first public park. In April, the nonprofit moved into their new offices at the historic Brewster Hospital in LaVilla. The building allows for more office space for the growing organization which added three new employees to its staff in 2019. In May, they opened Bogey Creek Preserve, a 75-acre scenic preserve that neighbors Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park and the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve and protects nearly one mile of critical marsh front on Clapboard and Bogey Creeks.

NFLT also entered into partnerships with the Sustainable Water Investment Group (SWIG) and with Groundwork Jacksonville. SWIG is leading the

Doctors Lake Phosphorus Removal Pilot Project to reduce the phosphorus discharge from the Fleming Island Regional Wastewater Plant using state-of-the-art technology. NFLT is also assisting Groundwork Jacksonville to identify, acquire and rehabilitate parcels of land for conservation within the urban core of Jacksonville.

At the annual meeting, NFLT also recognized a number of people including new members of the McQuilkin Society, which honors major donors to the land conservation organization

and was named for NFLT Founder Bill McQuilkin. Recognized at the meeting for their major donations were Kathi Chalk, Andrus and Natalie Healy, Bob and Cynthia Kastner, Connie and Ken McDaniel, Chuck and Diane Newman Sally and Tony Perez, Matthew Rapp, Sandra and Richey Smith,. Elizabeth Strawbridge, and Ben and Louann Willams who were also the Black Bear sponsors of the event. NFLT also recognized the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands with the 2019 Partners Award. The award was presented to Callie DeHaven, director of the state agency. The Advocate of the Year was presented to Senator Rob Bradley, who was unable to attend the event, and presented the Volunteer of the Year award to Kathi Chalk.

For 2020 and into the future, NFLT will be looking to continue their work within the O2O corridor as well as working to increase the size of their Bogey Creek Preserve by adding more conservation lands to the preserve. They are also looking at alternative funding through timber sales, serving as a gopher tortoise recipient site, by selling carbon credits and establishing a salt water mitigation bank.

McCarthy added, “We have a lot of work to do and a lot of land and wildlife that needs us.”