Land Surplus Crisis Averted at St. Johns River Water Management District

In early June, Audubon’s Northeast Florida Policy Associate Chris Farrell was perplexed by an item on the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) Governing Board consent agenda for the following week’s meeting. The District identified parcels in its ownership that it deemed weren’t needed for conservation purposes — but gave no maps or identifiers beyond the property appraiser parcel numbers listed.

Selling lands purchased for conservation is a big deal, so he decided to dig in, researching many of the parcels on property appraisers’ sites. The results were astonishing. District staff had identified properties for surplus that included vulnerable coastal habitat and portions of hallowed conservation lands like Orange County’s Hal Scott Preserve and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, just to name a few. Farrell and Audubon engaged with District staff to better understand how this list came to be and voice objections to many of the identified parcels.

Thanks to Farrell’s careful scrutiny and quick action, the District acknowledged the process for identifying these parcels was fatally flawed and quickly changed course, pulling the item from the meeting’s agenda.

We are grateful to Executive Director Register and Governing Board Chair Rob Bradley for hitting reset on this process to ensure the transparency, accountability, and safeguards Floridians expect for their conservation lands.

This story was published in the Summer issue of Audubon Naturalist.

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