Jacksonville, Fla., April 26, 2018 – North Florida Land Trust has been awarded a grant from the Healthy Watersheds Consortium to accelerate strategic land protection for healthy ecosystems and watersheds in the Ocala to Osceola, or O2O, wildlife corridor. The Healthy Watersheds grant provides $183,000 over a three-year period directly to NFLT and supports increased staff capacity needed to fully implement existing O2O conservation programs: The Regional Conservation Partnership Program with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Army Compatible Use Buffer partnership with the Florida National Guard. Together, these programs direct $17 million over the next five years for conservation in the O2O corridor.
The Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program is a competitive grant program designed to help awardees protect healthy watersheds by implementing existing and future land conservation programs. The program is a partnership of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It awarded more than $4.1 million in 2018 to help organizations, like NFLT, implement conservation for watershed protection that protects drinking water, reduces flood risk and provides economic and environmental benefits.
“This grant will allow us to accelerate our short-term goals to protect 10,000 acres of land in the O2O corridor by 2020 and at the same time continue our mission to protect and preserve the natural heritage of North Florida,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “With increased staff capacity, we can focus on reaching out to O2O landowners to secure conservation easements and help them with conservation land management practices. NFLT leads the O2O partnership, a consortium of public and nonprofit conservation partners that directs conservation programs and land protection in this nationally critical wildlife corridor.”
In addition to the short-term land protection goals, the Healthy Watersheds grant award will help NFLT reach its long-term goal of securing funding for 140,000 acres of O2O conservation land by 2040. As the leader of the O2O partnership, NFLT will develop a strategic plan to guide land and resource protection efforts, as well as leverage additional funding and institutional support for O2O corridor conservation. NFLT also works with the Florida National Guard to protect military training capacity on Camp Blanding through accelerated protection of surrounding lands.
The O2O Corridor is part of the Florida Ecological Greenworks network and spans 1.6 million acres of public and private land in Northeast Florida between the Ocala National Forest to the Osceola National Forest. Roughly half of the corridor is currently publicly owned and managed for conservation, including the 80,000-acre Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, two national forests and several state parks and forests.
NFLT is currently working with owners of private lands that provide critical wildlife habitat and connectors in this rural landscape. Enhanced land protection and conservation practices will improve habitat for the Florida Black Bear and imperiled species like the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snakes and gopher tortoises. The O2O Corridor contains headwaters of six watersheds, including the lower St. Johns, Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers. Land protection will protect critical waterways and aquifer recharge that provides clean water for much of North Florida.
With support from the Healthy Watersheds grant, NFLT continues to build staff capacity for land protection, stewardship and outreach in the O2O Corridor. Over the grant term, NFLT will work to strengthen the public-private O2O partnership and build relationships with O2O constituents and leverage dedicated funding to achieve conservation goals in the O2O corridor.
About North Florida Land Trust
North Florida Land Trust is a non-profit organization who serves as a champion of environmental protection primarily in Baker, Bradford, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns, Union and Volusia counties. NFLT was founded in 1999 and has protected thousands of acres of environmentally significant land including property at Big Talbot Island, the River Branch Preserve, Pumpkin Hill State Park, Moccasin Slough, along the St. Mary’s River and other valued natural areas predominantly in Northeast Florida. NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with private landowners and other public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations. For more information, visit www.northfloridalandtrust.org.