OKEECHOBEE COUNTY, FL (Aug. 23, 2017)—The Open Space Institute (OSI) today announced the advancement of a significant, large-scale conservation project in central Florida. The “Triple Diamond Ranch” project marks OSI’s first conservation venture in the state of Florida, and will permanently protect 4,000 acres of at-risk grasslands and prairies valued at $9.7 million.
Located just south of the bustle of Orlando’s amusement parks, Triple Diamond Ranch is one of the most biologically rich grasslands in the world and is essential to the water quality of the Everglades. The property, located within the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, is ranked eighth in the Florida Forever Critical Natural Lands project category. Conservation of the property contributes to the contiguous protection of more than 200,000 acres.
“The permanent protection of these incredible, biologically-rich grasslands in the heart of the Everglades Headwater National Wildlife Refuge is a tremendous accomplishment for OSI and our supportive partners,” said OSI president and Chief Executive Officer Kim Elliman. “In saving Triple Diamond Ranch, we are expanding an impressive network of conservation lands within a nationally significant and unique landscape, and protecting wildlife habitat and water quality both in the immediate area and downstream into the Everglades.”
The conservation value of the newly protected land is extremely high. The property provides natural filtration for water that flows directly into the Kissimmee River, which feeds Lake Okeechobee and ultimately, the Everglades. Additionally, the biologically significant dry prairie is known for its high-quality habitat for number of rare species, including the Florida grasshopper sparrow and the federally listed gopher tortoise, as well as indigo snake, crested caracara, and the red-cockaded woodpecker. The wetlands of Triple Diamond also provide important habitat for a range of wading birds.
Working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protect (DEP) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, OSI, whose efforts the state called “instrumental in achieving the purchase,” is providing financial support and transactional expertise needed to secure the property.
While OSI will hold the property for the immediate future, steps are currently underway for the state of Florida to acquire the western half of the half the property from OSI. On August 16, the state officially approved a $4.2 million appropriation to purchase 1,992 acres through the Florida Forever program. With this money in place, the state of Florida is expected to purchase the property from OSI in early 2018. OSI is working closely with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and hopes to convey the balance of the property to the USFWS for inclusion in the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge in the very near future.
“This acquisition is a great example of partners from the public and private sectors working together toward our shared goal of environmental protection,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “I’m grateful to all of the partners who came together to make this acquisition a reality.”
“With over 1,000 people moving to Florida every day, we must continue to prioritize the conservation of our world-renowned natural spaces,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “With the conservation of Triple Diamond ranch, we’re able to preserve this invaluable piece of our rural economy and its environment benefits in a cost-effective way.”
Triple Diamond Ranch has long been sought for preservation as part of an overall strategy to sustain the local agricultural and ranching economies, protect and manage water resources for downstream uses by communities and agriculture and to reduce flood hazards, while also securing better access for public recreational uses like hunting, fishing and wildlife observation through a careful mix of fee purchases and easements. Triple Diamond is considered ideal for public recreation given a modest but exemplary network of existing roads and trails on the property.