Land Acquisition and Management
The purpose of the Environmental Lands Program is to acquire, preserve, protect, manage, and restore endangered and environmentally sensitive lands, water resources and important wildlife habitat. Acquired properties may be used for passive outdoor recreational purposes provided that such uses will not disturb or degrade the environmental quality for which the site was acquired.
To assist with the implementation of the Environmental Lands program, the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) appointed an advisory board known as the Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee (CLASAC). The membership consists of representatives from the business and agricultural community, environmental groups, phosphate industry and professionals with land use experience. They are charged to aid the BoCC in the design and orderly implementation of the local land acquisition program in Polk County. The Technical Assessment Group (TAG) was formed to assist with the Environmental Lands Program's site inspections using the criteria as outlined in Ordinance #94-40. The TAG consists of technical and professional individuals in environmental (wildlife, botany, ecology, and water resources), land management and recreation planning fields. The Environmental Lands Program accepts site nominations from willing sellers, than pertinent information is gathered for each nomination. The Environmental Lands Criteria is used by the TAG and CLASAC to score and rank the sites. Recommendations for or against acquisition of sites with willing sellers are forwarded to the BoCC for their consideration and approval. The BoCC directs staff to either proceed with negotiations for a purchase or to not negotiate a purchase. The emphasis has been to have an acquisition and management partner to share costs wherever possible.
Once a site is acquired, interim management begins, which includes site security, debris removal, exotic species removal and temporary parking areas and walkways, if feasible, until a management plan is finalized. A natural resource inventory is conducted on the property and nature-based recreation opportunities are evaluated for compatibility with the site. A public meeting is held to explain the site's important natural resources and to receive comment from the public on the management and nature-based recreation, in order to develop the management plan. The proposed management plan is also commented on by CLASAC. The BoCC reviews the management plan and with input a management plan is finalized. The management plan is reviewed periodically to accommodate changing conditions. The Polk County Environmental Lands Public Use Ordinance (Ordinance 08-003 as amended) provides the overall framework for acceptable behavior while visiting environmental lands.