February 15,2017 - Commentary: Conservation by large tract owners is key
By Eric Draper, Executive director, Audubon Florida
Audubon worked with the governor’s office and the landowner to secure the parcel for conservation. But just north of our sanctuary, new owners recently started planning what could be an even bigger development. This concerns us because we once thought the majority of agricultural land in Collier and Lee counties would stay that way — low-density uses maintaining a nice, green boundary.
With nearly 1,000 people moving to Florida every day, the loss of agricultural land and natural areas is occurring at a shocking rate. We are losing open space at a rate of more than a square mile a day.
Audubon’s preference is public purchase of conservation lands, especially to protect water resources. But that approach has lost favor in Tallahassee and has become an expensive option as land prices rise.
Babcock Ranch, 93,000 acres in Lee and Charlotte counties, offers a good example of an alternative way to achieve conservation. After the death of the patriarch, family members had to decide to sell the ranch and its beautiful natural areas to the state or break it up to be sold to developers. Development would have been like other parts of semi-rural Lee County — 5-acre tracts with dirt roads and few services and schools.