DEP Acquires Conservation Easement Adjacent to Rice Creek Conservation Area

DEP Press Release header


CONTACT: DEP Press Office, 850.245.2112,

DEP Acquires Conservation Easement Adjacent to Rice Creek Conservation Area

Rice Creek Conservation Area

Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has acquired a conservation easement totaling approximately 3,562 acres within the Etoniah/Cross Florida Greenway Florida Forever Project, which is part of the Williams Wetland Preserve tract in Putnam County and adjacent to Rice Creek Conservation Area.  

The Williams Wetland Preserve is composed of mesic flatwoods, bottomland forest, floodplain swamp and sandhill ecosystems. Numerous seepage streams originate along the western ridge of the property and flow eastward into Rice Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns River.

“By partnering with local landowners through Florida Forever, the state is able to conserve critical habitat for native Florida species, protect heritage Florida ecosystems and improve local water quality," said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. "This project highlights the critical role private landowners can play in the protection of Florida's natural resources." 

Through past surveys, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) has discovered that the property is home to the largest population of spotted turtles in Florida, 45 reptile and amphibian species, and over 100 species of birds. Additionally, 160 acres of timberland within the easement will be conserved specifically for gopher tortoise habitat.

“The addition of this easement has an incredibly high biological benefit in protecting a wide diversity of sensitive species and habitats on site, but also by the overall increase in wildlife movement and habitat connectivity for the greater North Florida area as a whole,” said Jonathan Mays, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

 “The landowners, Ben and Louann Williams, have been strong supporters of the Florida Trail, working closely with our partners at the Florida Trail Association to provide optimal routing and public access between conservation lands,” said Shawn Thomas, Florida National Scenic Trail Administrator, USDA Forest Service.

“Ben and Louann Williams are selfless conservationists, land stewards and great neighbors to the St. Johns River Water Management District and the Rice Creek Conservation Area,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “The Williams family exemplifies the outstanding value of partnerships between public and private conservation programs. I applaud Ben and Louann, and DEP for working together to further protect Rice Creek and the St. Johns River watershed.”

Florida Forever is the state's conservation and recreation lands acquisition program, a blueprint for conserving our natural resources and renewing our commitment to conserve our natural and cultural heritage. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Division of State Lands is Florida’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship.