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Success Story

Protecting a Working Cattle Ranch and Enhancing Wildlife Habitat Along Connected Land and Waters in South-Central Florida

RCPP In Action
Publish Date
Cattle enjoying shade on Ravensworth Farms in South-Central Florida. The farm is protected by a conservation easement that ensures agricultural production will continue into perpetuity  (Credit – The Nature Conservancy/Wendy Mathews)

In south-central Florida, diverse partners with an experienced leader at the helm demonstrate the power and effectiveness of partnerships and the essence of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

In south-central Florida, diverse partners with an experienced leader at the helm demonstrate the power and effectiveness of partnerships and the essence of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). 

Led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Florida, the partners worked together on the Everglades Headwaters Longleaf Pine Project for four years as part of an NRCS RCPP critical conservation area. One of the partners’ key accomplishments is the permanent protection of Ravensworth Farms, a 1,069-acre working cattle ranch in Highlands County, Florida. The ranch’s owners voluntarily agreed to enter the ranch into a conservation easement, which ensures it is forever protected and guarantees agricultural production on Ravensworth Farms can continue into perpetuity.

Ravensworth Farms is part of a connected corridor of critical lands that benefit threatened and endangered wildlife such as the red cockaded woodpecker and support water flow and storage within the Arbuckle Creek Watershed—a major TNC goal in Florida and another key accomplishment of the partnership. The project, which began in 2016, continues to offer benefits to south-central Florida citizens and will do so for years to come.
Project partners include NRCS and Department of Defense (DoD)’s U.S. Air Force and DOD’s U.S. Air Force’s Avon Park Air Force Range. 

Ravensworth Farms plays a critical role in the network of environmentally important and protected properties in the region. The farm is bordered by other conserved lands and Arbuckle Creek to the east, which separates the property from the Avon Park Air Force Range, a 106,000-acre military base. The property is integral to ensuring improved water quality of the water flowing into the creek and southward toward Lake Istokpoga. It feeds into efforts to protect and buffer the Kissimmee River and other tributaries to Lake Okeechobee, and ultimately the Everglades.

The partners used diverse programs to achieve a shared vision in the Ravensworth Farms project. NRCS, TNC Florida and their partners worked tirelessly to protect land and water resources critical to the health of Florida’s environment, wildlife, economy and people.

The $3 million conservation easement purchase was funded through TNC donor funds and financial assistance from NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and Regional Conservation Partnership Program, as well as DOD’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program. 

NRCS contributed $1.44 million to help Florida’s TNC and its partners acquire an agricultural land easement (conservation easement). As the lead grantee, TNC holds the conservation easement and ensures it is protected forever through regular monitoring. NRCS continues to offer conservation technical assistance to eligible agricultural landowners and partners upon request, even though its funding obligation ended in Fiscal 2021. The partners used innovative methods to craft an effective conservation easement agreement that combined DoD’s Air Force easement language with USDA’s requirements.

“Our family has treasured this land for nearly five decades and we knew it was important to conserve the natural resources that are unique to the property,” said David Dalton, President, Ravensworth Farms, Inc. “We are pleased to be able to work with TNC, DoD and NRCS to protect our legacy with a conservation easement to safeguard it from future development.”
Ravensworth Farms’ protected agricultural land and waters now abuts protected land and water close to another project that uses partnerships to achieve its goals—the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership. The projects’ proximity offers additional protection for water quality and quantity and enhanced wildlife habitat.

Located in Highlands County, Ravensworth Farms falls within the Northern Everglades Watershed. Avon Park Airforce Range is home to the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and is surrounded by cattle ranches, citrus groves and working forests. 

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership seeks to encourage conservation and strengthen military readiness around critical military installations and ranges. Through this program, TNC and partners worked with eligible agricultural producers and private landowners who voluntarily agreed to form a buffer around the military base. 

The Ravensworth Farms project builds on a long history of effective conservation partnerships and efforts in the region that offers numerous benefits to natural resources, wildlife and Florida’s residents. About 680 acres on the Ravensworth Farms ranch are in improved pasture, 278 acres are in natural areas and 112 acres are in semi-improved and improved pasture.

“The work achieved by this partnership contributes to a continuing, successful project with conservation solutions that have a positive impact on the state’s wildlife corridor,” said State Conservationist Juan C. Hernandez, NRCS, Florida.

“The protection of Ravensworth Farms is a win-win, with benefits to the landowner’s business, the important work being conducted at Avon Park, and the environment. We are grateful to the landowners, our donors, and our partners at the Department of Defense’s U.S. Air Force and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for their commitment to conservation.,” said Executive Director Temperince Morgan, The Nature Conservancy, Florida. 

To learn more about how to access NRCS programs and services through RCPP, please visit the RCPP webpage

RCPP in Action