DeSoto County

The cows, fields and farms in Florida are often overshadowed by beaches and waterways, but a growing group of ranchers say preventing red tide, blue algae and even sea level rise could start with preserving ranches and farms.

“If we believe in climate change, if we believe in rising sea levels, a lot of those ranch lands are going to be part of the answer,” said Jim Strickland, a rancher and one of the leaders of Florida Conservation Group.

Strickland and hundreds of other ranchers are pushing for more conservation easements where the state pays the rancher what their land would be worth to developers. In turn, the rancher commits to keeping the land as green space forever.

In Tallahassee on Tuesday, the cabinet approved four such easements, one of which is 1,500 acres in DeSoto County. 258 ranchers have applied.

When the legislature meets next, starting Jan. 9, agriculture commissioner Wilton Simpson will ask for $300 million dollars for conservation easements for 10’s of thousands of acres of ranch land that can provide wildlife corridors, water supply recharge, and surface acreage and soil that filters nutrients before they cause red tide along beaches and waterways.

“If we protect the water, then I think we’re going to protect everybody’s investment, even the people that own homes, by protecting their water supplies,” shared Strickland.

Governor DeSantis vetoed $100 million dollars for conservation easements in the last budget, but supporters believe they have a better shot now.

As more people come to Florida, the pressure mounts to turn ranches into subdivisions.