DEP Protects Nearly 12,000 Acres Within the Peace River Watershed

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DEP Protects Nearly 12,000 Acres Within the Peace River Watershed

Horse Creek

Photo by Carlton Ward Jr./Wildpath.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has finalized the purchase of an 11,958-acre conservation easement in DeSoto and Hardee counties within the Horse Creek Ranch Florida Forever project.

Previously approved for acquisition by Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, this property provides a buffer for Horse Creek, a tributary of the Peace River, and will ensure the continued protection of the area’s drinking water supply. Protecting intact native wetlands in the Peace River watershed is crucial to the health of the Charlotte Harbor Estuary and the Gulf of Mexico.

“Preservation of this hydrologically important land helps increase the protection of Florida’s unique natural landscapes and wildlife habitats, as well as water quality,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “We are grateful to the dedicated ranching families like the Carlton family for their commitment to conserving these vital working lands in perpetuity.”

In addition, the Southwest Florida Water Management District is purchasing a conservation easement over Carlton Horse Creek Ranch’s remaining acreage, which will bring the total protected area to more than 16,000 acres and complete this Florida Forever project. 

“This has been an incredible partnership between our two agencies and the Doyle Carlton family to protect this critical piece of conservation land for future generations,” said Brian Armstrong, Executive Director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “This is a huge opportunity to protect 11 miles of Horse Creek, which is a major tributary of the Peace River.”

Located within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, this property supports habitat protection for numerous threatened plant and animal species, including the gopher tortoise, Eastern indigo snake, Eastern diamond-back rattlesnake, the Florida burrowing owl, crested caracara and the Florida sandhill crane.

“It has been a pleasure working with the landowner and partners involved, including the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Conservation Group and the National Wildlife Refuge Association,” said Callie DeHaven, Director of DEP's Division of State Lands. “We also would like to acknowledge our private sector partners including surveyors, title companies, appraisers and environmental site assessment companies that help ensure these properties are conserved forever.”

Florida Forever is the state's conservation and recreation land acquisition program, a blueprint for conserving Florida's natural resources and renewing the state's commitment to conserving its natural and cultural heritage. DEP’s Division of State Lands is Florida’s lead entity for conservation land acquisition, environmental management and stewardship.

Since 2019, the state has invested $600 million for land acquisition, including $300 million specifically for the Florida Wildlife Corridor, and acquired over 170,000 acres, which is nearly four times more than that of the previous four years. Approximately 97% of these acres are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.