No more threat of oil drilling on this 10,000-acre preserve near Everglades City
By Amy Bennett Williams, Naples Daily News
A first-of-its kind sale in the Everglades has preserved more than 11,000 wild acres while protecting it from oil drilling forever.
The intricate $29.5 million deal brought together the Collier family, the nonprofit WildLandscapes International, an environmental consulting firm, Family Lands Remembered, the Florida Legislature and the South Florida Water Management District as well as stakeholders throughout the region.
Dubbed the Green Heart of the Everglades, the Collier County property is west of State Road 29 and south of U.S. 41 running south to Everglades City between Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and Everglades National Park.
More than a quarter of the land is mangrove habitat, critical for water quality and storm protection, while the uplands are home to black bears, Florida panthers, and 37 other federally listed species in the region. The land is also important for the humans who make their living with airboat tours, guiding paddlecraft, crabbing and fishing, activities that will continue now that it's in conservation.
Surrounded as it by preserves, having this piece click into place was exciting, says Patrick Iler, director of strategy and policy for Family Lands Remembered, because it's a critical connector.
A missing piece connecting wild lands
“If you look on a map of protected land in south Florida, “This piece was missing. Everything around it is green, which means it’s protected, and then this piece is white ... that last missing piece,” he said.
The project brings full circle what began half a century ago with the creation of the Big Cypress preserve, says Curtis Osceola, the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida’s chief of staff. “This is a significant step in the right direction because it is the first time the Collier family has sold their oil rights along with the land. I think it's very important and timely, considering how we are currently fighting efforts to build new oil wells in the Big Cypress. It’s an ongoing battle that has spanned three generations, but from the Tribe's perspective, this is a promising first step. Stay tuned.”
Osceola’s eluding to ongoing efforts to get those rights to protect sensitive lands from exploration and drilling. Mineral rights can be sold separately (or retained) when an actual piece of land sells, an arrangement that’s caused no end of alarm in the environmental community.