The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (District) Governing Board approved the purchase of a 4,357-acre conservation easement over a portion of the approximately 16,315-acre Carlton Horse Creek Ranch. The acquisition is in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of State Lands (DSL). DSL will negotiate a conservation easement over the remaining 11,958 acres.
Horse Creek Ranch is located across both Hardee and DeSoto counties, in the southwest corner of Hardee County and the northwest corner of DeSoto County. The acquisition provides several benefits for preservation and protection of water and water-related resources by protecting approximately 11 miles of Horse Creek, which is a major tributary to the Peace River. The conservation easement area consists of approximately 76 percent uplands and 24 percent wetlands.
“This is a chance to save one of the largest functional pieces of the Peace River Watershed,” said Charles Lee, Director of Advocacy for Audubon Florida. “When you look at a satellite image to the north and south, it’s the only place that has a shot of staying natural. It’s rich in wildlife and water resources.”
Horse Creek Ranch sits entirely within the Florida Wildlife Corridor and is a critical property in an area being proposed for future phosphate mining. This acquisition meets all four of the District’s Areas of Responsibility, which are water supply, water quality, flood control and natural systems. In addition, the project is consistent with the Governor’s direction for protecting Florida’s springs, waterbodies and natural systems.
The parcel is being purchased for $13,780,593.75 with funds realized from the sale of District surplus properties. Acquisition of Horse Creek Ranch is consistent with the District’s Florida Forever Workplan and is consistent with the Florida Forever Act. The property has been utilized for cattle ranching and other agricultural activities and owned by the Doyle Carlton family for many years.
“The Southwest Florida Water Management District has been fair and professional throughout this process,” said Doyle Carlton. “My family and I feel very strongly that this agreement will be beneficial to all involved, and, most importantly, the land and water resources will be protected forever.”