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Florida RCPP - Forest to Gulf

The Forest to Gulf Resources Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) leverages more than $18 million in partner support from three state agencies, and one federal and one county agency, in addition to six nonprofit organizations and two universities. 

Lead Partner: Alachua Conservation Trust

Forest to Gulf addresses degraded plant conditions, terrestrial and aquatic habitat, weather resilient landscapes, and protection of water resources, including groundwater that supplies the majority of Florida’s fresh water. 

Contributions from project partners will complement RCPP funding and protect additional lands as part of the overall initiative. Targeting tools will prioritize critical lands and conservation easements will be coupled with forest management plans and funding for forest restoration and enhancement activities.

Project Scope/Description:

The compelling need for this project centers on resource concerns identified by the NRCS, and our observations of regional landowners' needs for land protection and management.

The resource concerns addressed here include degraded plant condition, terrestrial and aquatic habitat, weather resilient landscapes, and protection of water resources, including groundwater that supplies the majority of Florida’s fresh water. Our proposed project addresses these concerns through a strategy of accelerated land protection and management for fire-dependent forests and wildlife habitats (these are also identified as NRCS resource concerns). Our approach for the Forest to Gulf is to expand options for private land protection, as well as deliver more resources and incentives for forest land management. 

In recent years, we have observed unmet demand for conservation programs. Demand for fire management assistance has soared recently, especially in Marion and Levy counties. Similarly, we see more landowners interested in conservation easements to protect their lands, particularly in the face of increasing development pressures and the expenses of owning land. Given the number and array of conservation programs, there is a compelling need to coordinate and leverage resources. 

Map of Florida RCPP Forest to Gulf region

Specific programmatic needs include:

  • The need for conservation programs to meet increasing demand for land protection and management assistance in a region that contains ecologically sensitive lands and is also one of the fastest developing parts of Florida.
  • The need for better packaging and delivery of conservation programs and resources.
  • The need to leverage state, county and other federal conservation programs for greater breadth and better outcomes, and to help implement state conservation programs, laws and strategies.
  • The need for a better network for landowner outreach and engagement, including reaching new and Historically Underserved producers.
  • The need to implement NRCS initiatives and plans, including the Florida Five-year Wildlife plan, Urban Agriculture and Climate Smart initiatives.
  • The need to aggregate various state, county, federal and NGO conservation programs into a cohesive initiative that targets regional goals.

The project targets conservation benefits by:

  • Creating a regional initiative centered on a network of public and private partner organizations. This RCPP provides the infrastructure to build a regional initiative and strengthen partnerships, target conservation plans and mandates, and provide regional identity. 
  • Leveraging the resources of state, federal and county conservation programs.
  • Extending the magnitude and reach of easement programs and expanded land management programs to meet landowner demand. 
  • Connecting NRCS programs with “grassroots” networks and organizations, particularly for delivery of land management assistance and resources. This includes regional land trusts, landowner cooperatives, and locally based interest groups. 
  • Making the connection between project level activity and landscape conservation benefits. This project provides the resources and purpose for quantifying conservation outcomes at multiple scales.

The Forest to Gulf RCPP will deliver more conservation to the ground. It brings together the resources of 14 partner organizations, including: a lead partner (ACT) with proven ability to lead a landscape scale program and manage a partnership, five partners that are “eligible entities” for holding RCPP easements, state and county agencies with complementary conservation programs, the USFWS program for imperiled species habitat, two universities focused on quantifying conservation benefits and outcomes, and several nonprofits that will extend our reach to producers and constituents and help us with novel conservation approaches involving market-based programs.

Goals and Objectives: 

Nestled between North Central Florida’s sandy ridges and coastal estuaries is the Forest to Gulf region. This two-million-acre region is home to the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers, huge wetlands and longleaf pine forests which provide critical habitat for many imperiled species, including the eastern indigo snake and gopher tortoise. Many recognize the conservation importance of the Forest to Gulf, as the region contains ecologically sensitive wetlands and river systems, lands important for groundwater supplies, family-owned timber and grazing lands, and natural area buffers that ameliorate risk of volatile weather and sea level rise. 

The Forest to Gulf RCPP, led by Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT), brings together financial and technical resources of 13 partner organizations and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to accelerate land conservation. Importantly, it will provide conservation opportunities to landowners through expanded programs for conservation easements, and forestry and fire management. The project leverages more than $18 million in partner support from three state, one federal and one county agencies, in addition to six nonprofit organizations and two universities. 

Project goals include: 

  • More than 4,000 acres of new conservation lands acquired from willing sellers, through a combination of state, federal and county conservation programs. Options for working lands in the form of agricultural land easements. 
  • Habitat improvement of 3,000 acres of private lands through programs to restore and maintain fire management of upland forests. 
  • Private lands conservation programs for financial assistance to private landowners who manage imperiled species habitat. 
  • Enhanced landowner outreach and education for fire management assistance. New conservation opportunities for historically underserved landowners. 
  • Innovative approaches for blending traditional and market-based conservation programs. 

Priority Resource Concerns:

[ACT Resource concerns to be added soon.]

Project Partners:

Alachua Conservation Trust
Alachua County
Cultural Arts Coalition
Ecohydrology Lab - University of Florida
Equine Land Conservation Resource
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission
Florida Forest Service - Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
National Wildlife Federation
North Florida Prescribed Burn Association
Putnam Land Conservancy
Stetson University
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Wildlands Conservation

Florida Pond with trees, blue sky.

Florida RCPP

View More Active Florida RCPP Projects and information on Florida's main RCPP webpage.