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May 23, 2018

Marion County Awarded More Conservation Land

Cynthia Barnett | 7/1/2009

Marion County’s deal with Plum Creek Timber protects almost 2,000 acres from development. [Photo: Sheli Derato]
The largest private landowner in Florida, Plum Creek Timber Co. also owns some of the most environmentally important land in Marion County, especially around the Ocklawaha River. In May, the county picked up nearly 2,000 acres of that land for conservation, at no cost to taxpayers.

Marion County commissioners granted the Seattle-based timber company a conservation easement for 1,958 acres near Fort McCoy as part of its 4-year-old Transfer of Development Rights program. The deal is significant for the number of acres involved and because it gives the county’s TDR program “real standing and credibility,” says Commissioner Barbara Fitos, who represents the area.

TDRs have been around in Florida for a long time; Collier County’s dates to 1974. But they are relatively new in some parts of the state, like Marion, where controls on growth were viewed as limits to economic development. That attitude has changed in Marion, where commissioners are grappling with the consequences of sprawl. In recent years, the Republican-dominated county commission has focused on protecting water resources and guiding growth closer to the urban core, where services are available. TDRs accomplish both goals. Owners of rural and/or environmentally sensitive lands swap rights to develop their property for credits to build in better-suited areas.

Plum Creek can continue certain activities on the land, including forestry and ecotourism. Todd Powell, the company’s southern region director, says Plum Creek will continue tree-harvesting there. Plum Creek now has 17% of its 600,000 Florida acres in conservation easements.

For Marion, the deal more than doubles its TDR acreage to 3,198, putting the county closer to its goal of saving 5,000 acres by 2015. “To preserve such a large piece of highly vulnerable land helps us overcome some of the sins of the past,” says Fitos. “But more importantly, it gives us a lot more control over the future.”

Tags: Northeast, Agriculture, Environment

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