The deal is done: Orange Hammock Ranch in Sarasota County is purchased – News – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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The 5,777-acre property will be preserved.

Orange Hammock, the white whale of local conservation projects, is finally in the bag.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced Friday the purchase to permanently protect the 5,777-acre Orange Hammock Ranch in south Sarasota County.

“Land conservation must be a cornerstone of our environmental initiatives,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “The department is proud to be a partner in this project that will protect this ecologically diverse tract for future generations.”

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Conserving Orange Hammock Ranch has been an environmental priority for decades, critical to the region’s drinking water supply and providing vital habitat for threatened wildlife.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission will manage the ranch as a wildlife management area with eagerly anticipated public access.

Elusive and long sought after, the deal also potentially frees up money in the county’s environmentally sensitive lands program to do other deals.

In February, the state agreed to purchase Orange Hammock Ranch contingent upon Conservation Foundation’s pledge to raise part of the funds. Florida Forever funds contributed $19.5 million, and the Conservation Foundation raised $1.5 million to complete the purchase. Conserving Orange Hammock Ranch has been a major priority for Conservation Foundation since its inception 17 years ago. The foundation succeeded in getting this property added to the Florida Forever list in 2013, and had been working to build public and political support ever since.

“The community stepped up without hesitation to raise the final $1.5 million needed,” said Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. “We are grateful and humbled by the support, receiving more than 750 gifts of all sizes from across the region.”

The ranch is on the north side of Interstate 75 within the City of North Port. It connects RV Griffin Preserve with the Longino Preserve through about six miles of shared boundaries, and increases the 120,000-acre buffer surrounding the Myakka River and strengthens the connection between the Myakka and Peace Rivers.

Immense volumes of rainfall collect on the property and feed the Snover Waterway and RV Griffin reservoirs, both of which are critical sources of North Port’s clean drinking water.

The property is also nearly pristine, with natural areas in better condition than many public lands. Over 200 wetlands are intermixed with pine flatwood, globally-imperiled dry prairie and other native habitat.

Given this location and exceptional natural condition, the conservation of Orange Hammock Ranch will have sweeping benefits for regional connectivity, water quality, public recreation, and wildlife habitat.

This vast land is home to quail, indigo snakes and Florida black bears. Importantly, the property is connected with 120,000 acres of protected land, making it viable habitat for Florida panthers, which are now breeding in the nearby Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area.

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