Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Protecting Wildlife to Enhance Security; Camp Blanding Joins Preservation Project

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Protecting Wildlife to Enhance Security; Camp Blanding Joins Preservation Project

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, Clay County Line staff writer

About 8,500 acres of bear country will become part of Camp Blanding in southwestern Clay County. It will be the first land acquisition in the nation under a new program authorized by Congress to enhance national security and preserve the environment.

Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet approved an agreement Thursday to join forces with the U.S. Department of Defense to acquire the property for "just over $13 million," according to Linda Lanier, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

"It's a major habitat for the Florida black bear," Lanier said.

The landmark acquisition will be added to the 73,000-acre Florida Army National Guard Training Center, which extends from Florida 21 to Bradford County and along both sides of Florida 16 southward to Keystone Heights.

"Florida is the first in the nation to partner with the Department of Defense for the dual purpose of increasing security around vital military installations and protecting natural resources," said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David B. Struhs in a prepared statement. "This groundbreaking partnership merges our missions of environmental protection and national defense."

The acquisition stems from an agreement the Department of Environmental Protection and the Army National Guard signed in September to protect a 3-mile buffer adjacent to Camp Blanding.

The 8,500-acre buffer was targeted for preservation through the Northeast Florida Timberlands Florida Forever project, which spans more than 157,000 acres and protects a belt of green space connecting the Ocala and Osceola national forests.

Lanier said the project safeguards 60 rare species, including the bald eagle, red-cockaded woodpecker, wood stork and Florida black bear.

"This will provide wildlife more room to migrate from one forest to the other undisturbed," Lanier said.

The commanding officer of Florida's National Guard forces hailed the program as an important step forward.

"This landmark initiative preserves part of Florida's pristine landscape while also ensuring our state's military forces can continue training on world-class ranges and maneuver areas," said Major General Douglas Burnett, adjutant general of Florida and director of the Florida Department of Military Affairs. …

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