In a shining example of agency partnership, the state of Florida and the Southwest Water Management District have come together to conserve the 16, 316-acre Horse Creek Ranch that spans DeSoto and Hardee Counties. This conservation easement will result in the permanent protection of over 12 miles of frontage of Horse Creek, the most significant tributary of the Peace River, which is the drinking water supply to over a million people in southwest Florida.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and SWFWMD are to be commended on this joint purchase; a land conservation deal of this magnitude is rare and sorely needed within the Peace River Region. Horse Creek Ranch is critical to the health of the Peace River and the Charlotte Harbor Estuary, an estuary of national significance, one of the most important recreational fisheries in the state and a primary economic engine of southwest Florida.
The Horse Creek Ranch is a family-run cattle operation. The majority of this property is still in native habitat; the conservation purchase will protect over 4000 acres of wetlands. This is important; these wetlands hold and filter water before it reaches the creek, the Peace River and ultimately the Charlotte Harbor Estuary. Horse Creek, which supplies 15% of the freshwater flow to the Peace River, flows over 6 miles of the property; the creek joins the river just 13 miles to the south and Charlotte Harbor is just a few short miles away.
Protecting intact native wetlands in the Peace River Watershed is crucial to a healthy Charlotte Harbor Estuary and Gulf of Mexico. Ranches such as this provide both the opportunity to protect intact wetlands and floodplains. The Horse Creek purchase is an example of a watershed protection project that will be critical as part of an overall strategy to address the issues of nutrient impairment, red tide and algae blooms.
Horse Creek Ranch is owned by the Doyle Carlton Family. Nine generations of the Carlton family have been cattle ranching in Hardee County since the mid 1800’s. Three generations of the Carlton Family currently work on the ranch and the fourth generation are on their way. The long history of Florida and the Carlton Family are intertwined. Doyle Elam Carlton was elected to the Florida state senate and later served as the 25th Governor of the State of Florida. His son, Doyle Elam Carlton, Jr. was also elected to the Florida state senate. Doyle lll and his children Millie Bolin and son Dale are continuing the family legacy of stewardship in their care of the land and cattle they have been blessed with; the family is very active in community and agricultural projects. Doyle III has been on the Florida state fair authority board since 2003 serving as chair from 2011-2020. Millie serves on the Florida Cattlemen’s Foundation board and Dale is first Vice President of the Fl Cattlemen’s association.
The Carlton Family has a strong commitment to our state’s ranching and pioneer heritage. The conservation of Horse Creek Ranch forever protects our states wildlife and the water that flows through the ranch, across southwest Florida to Charlotte Harbor, for perpetuity. In the words of Mr. Doyle Carlton III “The Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District have been fair and professional throughout this process. My family and I feel very strongly that this conservation easement will be beneficial to all involved, and, most importantly, the land and water resources will be protected forever.”
The ranch also sits within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a statewide system of wildlife corridors that are critical for protecting our wildlife and water resources. The state’s purchase of a conservation easement over 11,958 acres combined with SWFWMD’s purchase of 4357 acres is a lasting legacy for all Floridians.
Florida Conservation Group is grateful to the Carlton Family for the opportunity to assist in this historic agreement. FCG has a long history of working in the Peace River Watershed and across rural south Florida. We hope that the protection of Horse Creek Ranch will serve as a catalyst and spur additional land conservation in the region. We are thankful for the excellent work by DEP’s Florida Forever Program and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. We are proud to have been a partner in this effort.