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rural land protection

"…the epic collaboration did result in a thoughtful, science-based roadmap for a healthy ecosystem and sustainable development across a landscape. That’s the model for the future of conservation.”

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, speaking of the Greater Sage Grouse collaboration including over 1,100 ranchers, resulting in the largest landscape-level conservation effort in US History, covering millions of acres and protecting over 350 wildlife species.

AWE is the Vanguard of Landscape-level Conservation

rural lands
stewardship program

In the 1990s, AWE and Florida Wildlife Federation joined a state lawsuit against Collier County, arguing it was not directing future development away from highly valuable conservation lands in eastern Collier County. We won, and 1999 ushered in an ambitious, innovative collaboration that has already permanently protected about 50,000 acres of the most environmentally-sensitive lands in the County, with much more to come. It is called Rural Lands Stewardship Program (RLSP).

RLSP in a Nutshell:

Private landowners agree to eliminate their rights to build houses in important natural habitat and water flow areas, and even to spend their own money restoring degraded wetlands and farmed lands. In exchange, those development rights are transferred to land with lower habitat values, increasing buildable density there.

Right now, the County is evaluating amendments to the original RLSP Rules to strengthen the conservation elements. AWE and its conservation partners support the proposed amendments.


Van Lengen memo



AWE seeks to permanently protect and restore approximately 134,000 acres of wetlands and prime habitat for multitudes of wildlife, including 18 listed species, and including about 40,000 acres of farms and ranches – all the while keeping the land in private ownership and management. When fully implemented, this initiative will be the largest private landowner-incentive effort ever achieved East of the Mississippi River.

AWEs Rural Land Protection Goal

134,000 ACRES

Protection Goal

(Twice the size of the city of Cape Coral, FL)

50,000 ACRES

Goal Achieved

(1.5 times the size of Disney World)

other rural land protection partnerships

On a separate but parallel track, AWE and its partners – Defenders of Wildlife and Florida Wildlife Federation  - and 8 private landowners controlling 195,000 acres in eastern Collier County – formed the Florida Panther Protection Program in 2007. The Goal:  Develop a Habitat Conservation Plan acceptable to all parties to protect 18 wildlife species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

cougar-6218764_1920 (1).jpg

© the University of Florida. Source: Southwest Florida Landscape Conversation Design. December 2017.

AWE is at the table with all parties, hammering out a plan that best protects this amazing array of imperiled wildlife species. Through negotiations with landowners, AWE and its conservation allies have achieved the following:

  • Landowners applied for a multi-species HCP, and AWE convinced the US Fish & Wildlife Service of the value and priority of this multi-species HCP and the precedent it will set nationally;

  • AWE has leveraged significant conservation outcomes. Examples include:

  • The best locations for several wildlife road crossings, based on panther-vehicle collision data;

  • Planned restoration of 930 acres of row crops to habitat (“football” and “frying pan”) in Camp Keais Strand, thus widening the flowway to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and a change in the location of ingress to and egress from this area for Florida Panthers;

  • Preservation of an important bird hotspot at the northwest corner of Oil Well Road and Oil Well Grade Road (“Duck Pond”);

  • Increased connectivity and functionality planned between the CREW Marsh, through King Ranch’s West Hendry Sector Plan to Spirit of the Wild in Hendry County; incentivized restoration of a functional wildlife movement linkage between the Okaloacoochee Slough and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and continued assurance of regional connectivity of habitat through the HCP process;

  • Encouragement of agricultural participating landowners to remain in talks and support further incentives to protect approximately 40,000 acres of farm and ranch lands, including within important wildlife habitats;

  • Submission of comments to the participating landowners and federal government on drafts of the HCP has resulted in habitat protection improvements in the HCP.

Florida Panther Protection Plan

Contribute to our work on these initiatives

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