SANTA ROSA COUNTY, Fla.– The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has purchased over 3,600 acres for the Blackwater River State Forest, according to an announcement by the DEP today.
The acreage is within the Wolfe Creek Forest Florida Forever project in Santa Rosa County.
Located within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, the property provides a critical connection between the Blackwater River State Forest and other state-owned conservation lands buffering Whiting Field Naval Air Station, the DEP said.
This project connects two previously disconnected tracts of the state forest to form an important corridor for wildlife to access nearly 35 miles of streams that feed into Big Coldwater Creek and Big Juniper Creek, two major tributaries of the Blackwater River.
“A true partnership project with federal, state, local, nonprofit and private partners, this acquisition with the Trust for Public Land allowed us to leverage funding and resources to protect these critical ecosystems,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton.
“This acquisition will help create connectivity among conservation lands in the area, enhance wildlife habitat and provide additional outdoor recreational opportunities for the public.”
Restoration of the native longleaf pine forest will help provide additional habitat for several threatened and endangered species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, Eastern indigo snake, Florida black bear, and gopher tortoise. The acquisition will also expand recreational opportunities for the public including hiking, fishing, and camping, the DEP said.
“Longleaf pine forests are one of the most threatened and ecologically diverse ecosystems in the world, and the protection of this additional acreage will protect critical habitat and allow Santa Rosa County residents and visitors opportunities for recreational access,” said Doug Hattaway, senior project manager for Trust for Public Land.
“Trust for Public Land is thankful to our funding and programmatic partners connecting more people to the outdoors.”
The Wolfe Creek Forest Florida Forever project covers the area near Milton, Florida, between Blackwater River State Forest and Whiting Field Naval Air Station.
The DEP said acquisitions within this project have been part of a multiphased landscape strategic partnership between federal, state, local, and private entities. Since 2010, the state has acquired nearly 10,000 acres within the project to protect natural resources, expand public recreational opportunities, and to buffer naval air station operations.
The property will be managed by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida Forest Service, as an addition to Blackwater River State Forest.