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XL Ranch Lightsey Cove – Florida Conservation and Climate-Smart Agriculture through Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

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Trees on XL Covey Ranch  in Florida

Earth Day is a day to recognize the best stewards of our land. America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are uniquely positioned to deliver climate solutions through Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities. 

GAINESVILLE, Fla., April 22, 2024 – Earth Day is a day to recognize the best stewards of our land. America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are uniquely positioned to deliver climate solutions through Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities. XL Ranch Lightsey Cove, in Highlands County, Florida, is a great example of conservation stewardship.

XL Ranch Lightsey Cove 
Located on the northwest edge of Lake Istokpoga in Central Florida, XL Ranch Lightsey Cove offers a glimpse of prehistoric Florida with ancient oak hammocks and sand pine scrub scattered among vibrant marshes and endangered grasslands. The property is characterized by scenic vistas and even has a historic archaeological site. The landscape is filled with life and encompasses exceptional habitats such as wet prairie, scrub, and a rare cutthroat grass community.

About the Property
A conservation easement on the ranch is contributing to the preservation of Highlands County’s historical and cultural ranching heritage, as free-roaming cattle have been grazing in this region since the 1800s. With 2,000 feet of shoreline, this property also plays an important role in protecting the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, which spans from Orlando to Florida Bay at the southern tip of Florida.

Why the Landowner Chose Permanent Protection
This property is a special piece of Florida within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, 18 million acres of contiguous wilderness and working lands crucial to the survival of many of Florida’s 131 imperiled animals. The conservation easement on this property will provide long-term protection for Florida’s freshwater and preserve the native and ranch lands for the future of Florida.

How the Land was Protected
The conservation easement was made possible in partnership with Conservation Florida and funding received from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program - Agricultural Land Easement (ACEP-ALE) – Grasslands of Special Significance.

ACEP-ALE helps private and tribal landowners, land trusts, and other entities such as state and local governments protect croplands and grasslands on working farms and ranches by limiting nonagricultural uses of the land. Where NRCS determines grasslands of special environmental significance will be protected, NRCS may contribute up to 75 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement.

What was Accomplished
XL Ranch Lightsey Cove is a slice of Old Florida, and its protection is vital to the Northern Everglades. In addition to being a part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, XL Ranch Lightsey Cove also lies within the Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR) Sentinel Landscape. The APAFR Sentinel Landscape covers approximately 1.7 million acres of land and is known for its rich biodiversity and abundance of private ranches. It's anchored by the Air Force’s largest primary air-to-ground training range east of the Mississippi River, which is used by every branch of the Armed Forces. The Sentinel Landscape is also home to portions of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is a coalition working with willing landowners and managers to advance sustainable land use practices around military installations and ranges. Founded in 2013 by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and Interior, the partnership’s mission is to strengthen military readiness, conserve natural resources, bolster agricultural and forestry economies, increase public access to outdoor recreation, and enhance resilience to climate change.

About the Partners

Conservation Florida
Conservation Florida is a statewide accredited land conservancy working to conserve Florida’s water, wildlife, wild places, and protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The organization’s conservation projects support Florida’s native plants and wildlife, fresh water, wildlife corridors, family farms and ranches, the economy, and nature-based recreation.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
NRCS provides America’s farmers and ranchers with financial and technical assistance to voluntarily put conservation on the ground, helping the environment and agricultural operations. To find out more, visit

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

Lori Valadez, Public Affairs Specialist, National Easement Program 
Cynthia Portalatin; Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS Florida