DEP Protects More Than 17,000 Acres Near Big Cypress National Preserve

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DEP Protects More Than 17,000 Acres Near Big Cypress National Preserve

Devil's Garden

Devil’s Garden Florida Forever Project | Photo by Lauren Yoho/Wildpath

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is celebrating the completion of a landmark purchase of 17,229 acres integral to the Florida Wildlife Corridor in Hendry County. This closing takes the conservation of the Devil’s Garden Florida Forever Project to over 60% complete.

“Often conservation happens in small increments, but today we are taking a giant step forward in a critical area thanks to this historic deal,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “Thanks to the support from Governor DeSantis, the Legislature and our state’s landowners for recognizing the importance of restoring and maintaining these vital habitats and ecosystems.” 

Stretching from the Caloosahatchee River to Big Cypress National Preserve, this vast acreage will conserve critical habitat for the endangered Florida panther and provide significant water quality protection. The natural systems of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Big Cypress National Preserve are dependent on the water supplied from this area, and most of the Devil’s Garden project lies within the Western Everglades Restoration Project planning boundary. 

The new parcel creates additional opportunities for public recreation in the Okaloacoochee Slough Wildlife Management Area and will be managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved this acquisition during a previous Cabinet Meeting. 

Florida is at the forefront of the nation’s land protection efforts and continues to be a model for other land acquisition programs across the country. Through the Florida Forever Program, the state conserves land that provides environmental, recreational and preservation benefits, including water quality and quantity safeguards; resilience from storm impacts; habitat and species protections; and outdoor recreation opportunities.  

Since 2019, the state has committed more than $1.4 billion to the Florida Forever program, including $950 million specifically for the Florida Wildlife Corridor. This consistent funding has enabled DEP to acquire over 265,000 acres for conservation since 2019, 92% of which are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.