Sunday, May 20 2012 @ 01:32 PM EDT
Contributed by: Admin
In 1996, Lee County, Florida was booming. Growth within the southwest Florida area was experiencing strong existing home sales, as well as new home construction. All of this growth was being bolstered by a thriving economy. At that time, a majority of concerned citizens here voted to support a proposed tax millage increase designed to protect environmentally critical lands within southwest Florida. That proposed tax was supported by a grass roots effort on the part of local citizens concerned about the loss of environmentally sensitive land to rapid development taking place here.
In 1996, when the proposed tax millage increase was passed by Lee County voters, The Lee County Board of County Commissioners created the "Conservation 20/20" land acquisition and stewardship program.
Photo Courtesy: The Sand Paper
In an effort to fulfill the directive of Lee County voters, The Lee County BOCC (at that time) also formed a citizen advisory committee comprised of fifteen members, whose job would be to oversee the program. This group, CLASAC, the Conservation Land Aquisition Stewardship Advisory Committee, has been holding regular meetings since their inception. The initial millage increase generated nearly $40 million dollars in 1997.
Since that time, the Conservation 20/20 program has been responsible for preserving more than 18,800 acres of sensitive southwest Florida lands. The methods utilized by Land Stewardship staff to adopt and transform an acquired property are very straight forward. After their identification of the site's physical and natural resources, management needs are determined. They identify, additionally, all resource-based recreational opportunities.
Land stewardship requirements upon these identified properties can vary based upon a particular property's resources, but many activities are commonplace. From removal of invasive exotic plant species or restoring a site's natural waterflow to defining areas for prescribed burning, the work of developing a Stewardship Plan requires an educated staff of Florida Master Naturalists, who are (typically) volunteers! Whether they are posting boundary signs or trapping feral hogs, their work is very physically demanding, but not boring!
The final step in a property's conversion to a 20/20 Conservation Preserve is assigning it to the proper category. Category One, or Primary Use Preserves are characterized by easy access, space for parking, daily staff and other amenities. Capital improvements, such as marked trails, boardwalks, bike racks and boat or kayak launches are also, typically, present. The Six Mile Cypress Slough is an example of a Category One or Primary Use Preserve. Category Two, or Intermediate Use Preserves, are known to have less space for parking without degrading the environment and are also well-suited for trail systems for more than one use. Bunche Beach, on San Carlos Bay is an Intermediate Use Preserve. Category Three, or Limited Use Preserves are the last type to offer public access. Parking and/or restroom facilities are not provided. Full-time staff are not present and access may be limited to boaters exclusively! Yellow Fever Creek is an example of a Category Three or Limited Use Preserve
Category Four are also known as Resource Protection & Restoration Preserves. They are those properties currently undergoing a restoration process or whose Land Stewardship Plan has yet to be determined. Pulic access is not provided, as it is not, usually, feasible due to different conditions being existent. Similar to Category Three Preserves, no full-time staff is present. Neither facilities nor marked-trails are offered. Should there be a public interest, staff may provide guided field trips. The Babcock Ranch is a perfect example of a Resource Protection and Restoration Preserve.
It should be noted that volunteer opportunities abound for working with the Lee County's Conservation 20/20 Program. Interested individuals should investigate the Florida Master Naturalist Program within Lee County.
Editors Note: Greatest Cape supports Conservation 20/20 and all natural resource conservation efforts within southwest Florida.