Public comment invited on Babcock Ranch Preserve management plans
The next public meeting on the proposed revisions to the Babcock Ranch Preserve Management Plan will be at the Charlotte Harbor Event Center in Punta Gorda on Jan. 13, 2016 at 9 a.m.
The Babcock Ranch Preserve occupies 73,239 acres in southeast Charlotte County and northwest Lee County, approximately 17.5 miles east of Punta Gorda and 34 miles west of Lake Okeechobee. It represents one of the single largest purchases of conservation land in the state's history. The Preserve protects regionally important water resources, diverse natural habitats, scenic landscapes and historic and cultural resources in the rapidly developing southwest Florida corridor. Public recreational opportunities abound and include hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing, bicycling, fishing, camping and horseback riding.
Prior to its purchase by the State of Florida and Lee County in 2006, the Preserve was part of the 91,361-acre working ranch known as Crescent B Ranch. Since 1914, Crescent B Ranch produced timber, cattle, row crops, and sod, and provided recreation opportunities such as hunting and ecotourism. During the sale of the property in 2006, a portion of the original Crescent B Ranch acreage was reserved for private residential development (Babcock Ranch Community); the remainder was sold to the state.
Under the current plan which ends in 2016, the Preserve is managed under the auspices of a unique public-private partnership which will help sustain the Preserve as a working ranch, and timbering and eco-tourism operation. Revenue from these activities and other on-site recreation will provide the resources necessary to maintain and protect the property for the citizens of Florida. Partners include the Babcock Ranch, Inc (not for profit corporation), Babcock Ranch Management, LLC (private corporation), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forest Service and Lee County
Proposed Revision analysis courtesy of Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Assocation:
The proposed plan with management of the Preserve by the Department of Agriculture:
Rolls back water, wildlife and habitat protections in the current plan and deemphasizes the critical values, protections and projects provided by Babcock lands for critical water resources such as Telegraph Swamp and Telegraph Creek and needed water quality projects.
Expands cattle, timber and row crop uses without limits to assure sustainable harvest or sustainable habitats are maintained to support protected species.
Cypress harvesting and stump harvesting has been added back in where it was prohibited in the current plan on Lee County land.
Requires only 1 environmental assessment over the 10 year period while timber, cattle, hunting, burning and other resource activities are ongoing. Environmental or ecological damage will not be identified or management activities adjusted in real time to prevent further damage if you don't do this concurrently with annual management decisions. We ask that environmental assessments be done annually in conjunction with ranch management activities.
Makes no distinction between the property in Lee and Charlotte counties even though the 5,620.36 acres in Lee county were purchased by Lee County taxpayers through an ad valorem tax assessment known as Conservation 2020. As a result the land in Lee County has a review and management process in place that they have paid for and that must be recognized and accommodated in the plan.
All references to the Lee County Land must reflect this distinction and be referred to as the Bob Janes Preserve. Any management changes must come before the appointed Conservation Land Acquisition Stewardship Advisory Committee (CLASAC) and be adopted by the BOCC.
This draft plan rolls back nearly all the educational and learning lab components in the original plan and references only "master naturalists' as an interested volunteer group. There are many, many other groups involved and interested.
Comments on the revised plan can be sent to Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann (
) whose staff is working on incorporating Lee County concerns into a 2nd draft, and these Florida Dept. of Agriculture contacts:
, Land Planning Coordinator
, Babcock Ranch Manager