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Cowboys, Cattle and Conservation

Cowboys, Cattle and Conservation

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson and rancher Jim Strickland spoke to a packed house at Horse Farms Forever’s Spring Speaker Series Event held at Golden Ocala on April 24. Photos by Sean Dowie Photography

Wilton Simpson, Commissioner of Agriculture, Inspires at Spring Speaker Series

Wilton Simpson, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture gave an inspiring speech at Horse Farms Forever’s third annual Spring Speaker Series event held on Wednesday, April 24 at Golden Ocala. Jim Strickland, legendary Florida cowboy and rancher, also spoke passionately about his love of ranching at the event.

Over 125 guests joined us to celebrate Farmland Preservation Month and to create more awareness about conservation programs to promote agriculture and protect farms. Our Presenting Sponsor was Lugano Diamonds and our Program Sponsor was Tasha Osbourne of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. Many thanks for their generous support!

Wilton Simpson, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, has been a champion of agriculture since his election to the Florida Senate in 2012. He spoke about securing the future of farming in the state of Florida by protecting farms and ranches through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program with conservation easements.

Food is National Security

Commissioner Simpson is a fifth-generation Floridian and he has been a champion of agriculture since his election to the Florida Senate in 2012, where he served for 10 years. He spoke about securing the future of farming in the state of Florida, with programs such as the updated Right to Farm Act, the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program to help protect agricultural land from urban sprawl, the Florida Wildlife Corridor, and the Fresh from Florida program to encourage Florida-grown food.


The most important issue facing agriculture, he said, is to define food and agriculture as a national security issue. 

“We think about oil as a national security issue and our country has strategic supplies of oil just in case there’s a major disruption somewhere in the world,” he said. “But, imagine one week of no food in the grocery stores, or no food for just seven days. There would be total chaos in this country. Now imagine 30 days of no food in the stores and there would be people starving.”

Simpson also said that agriculture is the number-two driver of Florida’s economy, but during the pandemic because tourism was limited, agriculture became the number-one driver of the economy. 

“Agriculture has more than a $130 billion economic impact across our state while providing 2.2 million jobs and local sources of food,” he said.

Rural and Family Lands Protection Program

As a lifelong farmer, who grew up working on his family’s large-scale egg farm, he understands the development pressure that landowners face. He has championed the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) that protects important agricultural lands through the acquisition of permanent agricultural land conservation easements. 

He successfully secured $300 million in funding for the RFLPP the 2022-2023 fiscal year and he has requested an additional $300 million in funding for the 2024 fiscal year. 

Florida Wildlife Corridor

In 2021, Commissioner Simpson also championed the successful passage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, which helps protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The Corridor stretches over 18 million acres and generates more than $30 billion in revenue annually and stimulates roughly 100,000 jobs in the state of Florida. Since 2021, more than 160,000 acres have been approved for protection through the RFLPP and the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. 

He has also supported several agriculture-focused policies in the Florida Senate, including reducing the tax burden on farmers by strengthening Florida’s greenbelt laws and expanding Agritourism throughout Florida.

After the Spring Speaker Series, Wilton Simpson posted on his personal Facebook page, stating:

“Great to be in Ocala last night with my friend Jim Strickland and Horse Farms Forever. They’re working to conserve horse farms to preserve natural pasture land. The horse industry defines so much of the areas character and I’m grateful for the work being done to protect it.” 

 

 

Bernie Little, HFF Founder and President, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, Traci Deen, Esq., President and CEO of Conservation Florida, Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director, Wilton Simpson, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Jonathon Rees, Firm Member, Smith, Bryan & Myers

Craig Curry, Marion County Commissioner, Mary Jane Hunt, HFF Founder and Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director

Michelle Stone, Marion County Commissioner (center) with Lonny Powell- CEO Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association and Wilton Simpson, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture

Tasha and Michael Osbourne – Many thanks to our Presenting Sponsor Lugano Diamonds and to our Program Sponsor Tasha Osbourne of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty for their generous support!

Rubbish and Debrie, mascots for Marion County’s No Horsin’ Around Campaign to help prevent litter.  

Mary Jane Hunt, Director of the Saint Bernard Foundation, presents gifts of $25,000 each to Sam Smidt, Director of Land Use and Protection Research for the American Farmland Trust, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, (standing with Wilton Simpson and Sara Fennessy), and Traci Deen, Esq., President and CEO of Conservation Florida

Jim Strickland and John S. Rudnianyn, CCIM, ALC. International Property Services Corp

Jason Reynolds, Executive Director, Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park and Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director

Jim Strickland, legendary Florida rancher spoke passionately about the importance of protecting working cattle ranches.

Cattle and Conservation Cowboy – Jim Strickland

Jim Strickland is the Owner of Strickland Ranch and Managing Partner of Blackbeard’s Ranch a 4,530-acre cattle ranch near Myakka River State Park. He has six decades of ranching experience and comes from a family that has been ranching in Florida since 1860. When his father died in the 1970’s, Jim took over the family cattle operations at the age of 17, primarily leasing land for cattle. 

“I’ve been ranching for 60 years and this is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Strickland. “There’s no illustrious history about Strickland Ranch, nor huge financial gains; what there is a love for the woods, cattle and Florida. I’ve been blessed to do what I love.”

His passion for cattle and conservation began at a young age, as he witnessed the development pressure first-hand and had to move his cattle out of many leased pastures and native ranges when they converted to housing developments. 

Jim is a strong advocate for Florida agriculture and land conservation. He is the Vice-Chairman of the Florida Conservation Group, a science-based organization that facilitated the protection of over 35,000 acres of ranches with conservation easements in 2023 and are currently working to protect another 40,000 acres in 2024.

“A ranch is as close to pristine wilderness as you’ll get. How do we compensate ranchers to maintain their land, stay in business and not sell to developers? We have to be able to tell the story of what dirt is worth – not from the standpoint of development rights – but what is the land worth to society, the 22 million people who live in Florida, who depend on that land to filter water, protect wetlands, store carbon, and provide animal habitat,” said Strickland. 

Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area

The Florida Conservation Group worked in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to establish a new 4 million-acre Conservation Area in southwest Florida as the Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area, which will allow USFWS to work with landowners to protect agricultural land with conservation easements.

He was also instrumental in protecting nearly 1,500 acres of Blackbeard’s Ranch with a conservation easement.

Jim has served as President of the Florida Cattleman’s Association, Past Chairman of the Florida Cattleman’s Foundation, and Chairman of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association PAC, the Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park and is Co-Chair of the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group.

Jim was named Audubon Florida’s Sustainable Rancher of the year in 2019 and recognized as one of Florida Trend’s 500 Most Influential Business Leaders for 2018 and 2019.

George Isaacs, General Manager, Bridlewood Farm and HFF Director, Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, Wilton Simpson, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Mary Jane Hunt, HFF Founder, Jim Strickland, Florida rancher, Busy Shires, HFF Director of Conservation, Bernie Little, HFF Founder and President

Busy Shires, Director of Conservation, Horse Farms Forever high fives Jim Strickland

Nancy DiMaggio, Volunteer, Horse Farms Forever

Heather Traynham Wright, Ann Louise Drake, Holland and Barbara Drake

Debbie and Jorge Garcia-Bengochea from Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses and HFF Founder Mary Jane Hunt

Thank You To Our Sponsors!

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

Wild Florida Celebrated at 2023 Conservation Summit

Wild Florida Celebrated at 2023 Conservation Summit

Keynote speaker Carlton Ward, Jr. inspired us with his stunning photography and film of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. 

Record Turnout

On Thursday, November 16th, a large and enthusiastic crowd turned out to hear Path of the Panther creator, Carlton Ward, Jr. speak and learn more about the Florida Wildlife Corridor, despite the torrential rains and wind that night. It was clear that our goal to raise awareness for the Corridor and inspire the community to think about conservation was accomplished. Over 500 people filled the auditorium at Ocala Breeder’s Sales, who have so graciously hosted the Conservation Summit free of charge for the third year in a row.

The Conservation Summit has become a major fixture on the calendar, and the passion for conservation and land stewardship in that packed auditorium was absolutely palpable, and not just from farm and land owners. The speakers were riveting, the refreshments excellent and the whole presentation so very professionally and seamlessly choreographed. I know how much work and thought had gone into planning and executing the evening, and I felt proud to be a small part of this fine movement.

Nick de Meric

HFF Founder and Board Member, de Meric Thoroughbred Sales

HFF Director of Conservation Strategies Busy Shires shared a recap of HFF’s accomplishments in protecting the Farmland Preservation Area since its inception 5 years ago.

 

Powerhouse Presentations

Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, CEO of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, began the Program by sharing how the Florida Wildlife Corridor came to be. Dimmitt is a close colleague of Carlton Ward, Jr., and together with him and another colleague, Joe Guthrie, they embarked on a 1000 mile journey in 100 days in 2012 to raise awareness about this connected landscape. They started in the Everglades and ended in the Okefenokee Swamp across the Florida/Georgia border. That resulted in their first documentary film, Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. Another 1000-mile trek began in the Everglades Headwaters and stretched west along the Big Bend coast and the Florida Panhandle to the Gulf Islands National Seashore at the Florida/Alabama border. That journey led to a documentary known as The Forgotten Coast. As awareness of the Corridor grew, they started routing their expeditions to more densely populated edge areas experiencing rapid growth with an urgent need to accelerate the pace of conservation, most recently following the journey of 3 military veterans from Ocala to Osceola National Forests. The Foundation just previewed that short film, called O2O: Path to Connection, which will premiere at Camp Blanding in February. These films have been punctuation marks that are extremely effective in telling the story of the Corridor. 

We stand at the crossroads of preservation and progress, witnessing firsthand how this remarkable Corridor breathes life into our communities and fuels the spirit of exploration. It’s not just a space on the map; it’s a living testament to the resilience of nature and the legacy we craft for generations to come.
Mallory Lykes Dimmitt

CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation

“Standing here today, I have renewed hope that the story of the Florida panther rising up out of South Florida swamps will continue inspiring a movement to save the Florida Wildlife Corridor and keep the Everglades connected to the rest of America.”
Carlton Ward, Jr.

Path of the Panther

Dimmitt introduced Carlton Ward, Jr., National Geographic Explorer, photographer and film maker. Ward was quick to point out some little known facts about what the Florida Wildlife Corridor protects, such as cattle ranches which still take up 1/6 of Florida’s land mass, black bears, corals in the Florida Keys, freshwater springs, longleaf pine forests and of course, the rare Florida Panther. He then took us on a journey through his career as an explorer and the ups and downs of capturing images of the elusive panther using camera traps.

His family owns a ranch in the Peace River Valley. Several of his cousins are full-time cowboys in the Greater Everglades. His great-grandfather was Doyle E. Carlton, the 25th governor of Florida. He’s an eighth generation Floridian.

I started this journey inspired by bears, cowboys and panthers. I enter this phase of the journey motivated by my children. The bears and panthers show us what we need to do to save Florida, while giving ranchers and other rural Floridians viable alternatives to development that will otherwise overtake their lands.
Carlton Ward, Jr.

National Geographic Explorer, photographer, film maker, Wildpath

Wildpath

Ward’s organization, Wildpath, is pursuing new projects now that the Path of the Panther book and movie are enjoying widespread acclaim and success. With storytelling and conservation grants from National Geographic, they are starting a new project called Gulf of Mexico: Paths to Protection. The project began working with global ocean ambassador Dr Sylvia Earle, who was the first person to scuba dive for science in the Gulf of Mexico more than 70 years ago. This initial focus is celebrating the seagrass beds of what Sylvia calls The Wilderness Coast – wrapping from north of Clearwater to Tallahassee. From the seagrasses, the project will follow the movements wildlife such as five species of sea turtles that rely on Wilderness Coast Estuaries, through the Gulf of Mexico, and beyond.

Back on land, Wildpath is starting a new project advocating for the protection of large-scale wildlife corridors surrounding military bases throughout America. They are working with the Department of Defense, USDA, and US Dept of the Interior.

And of course, they continue to deepen the story telling about the Florida Wildlife Corridor by sending photographers to all regions of the Corridor to document the wildlife. This is being compiled into a story map which you can view in real time on wildpath.com.

 

Traci Deen from Conservation Florida shared the news about conservation easements underway in Marion County.

Conservation Florida

Ward introduced the final speaker, Traci Deen, Esq., President and CEO of Conservation Florida. Deen’s organization saves land by facilitating, accepting or purchasing donations of land conservation easements and serving as a statewide conservation partner to other organizations. As a partner in the Florida Wildlife Corridor, they are actively using some of the $2billion in state funding allocated for the corridor to purchase easements on private working lands that enable the owners to continue working the land while at the same time keeping it available for wildlife habitat.

About 43% of Marion County’s land mass is included in the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The Ocala National Forest (ONF), at over 430,000 acres, is one of the largest pieces of the puzzle. The goal is to connect additional conservation lands such as the ONF, the Cross Florida Greenway, Rainbow Springs State Park, and Silver Springs State Park by protecting private land with conservation easements.

A small portion of the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) in northwest Marion County is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The FPA section of the corridor will help connect Paynes Prairie State Preserve to the Goethe State Forest.

From Tiny Acorns, Mighty Oaks Grow

The Acorn Award, sponsored by Horse Farms Forever, is given annually to a Marion County landowner who has exemplified what it means to protect and honor the open spaces and beautiful places that make Ocala/Marion County unique. This year, we were honored to present the Award to Shirley and John Rudnianyn, owners of Blitch Plantation and one of the largest landowners in the County. Blitch Plantation is a 4,500 acre farm with timber, cattle and wildlife habitat. The Rudnianyns recently purchased approximately 18,000 acres in the Fort McCoy area and have assembled a team of experts including foresters, soil and wetland scientists and several conservation organizations to help restore the tract for sustainable timber, cattle grazing, and hunting. This tract is an important connector between the Ocala National Forest and the Osceola National Forest.

Carlton Ward, Jr. signed books before and after the Program.

Special Moments

The evening’s events began with a Path of the Panther book signing while guests enjoyed a cheerful reception, refreshments, and toured the hospitality booths of Sponsors. Rubbish the Raccoon, Marion County’s rap-singing mascot for it’s No Horsin’ Around Litter Campaign was a favorite photo opportunity. Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses once again came as our special guests to let everyone meet one of their sweet miniature horses and learn about their mission to encourage and uplift people in need. The Saint Bernard Foundation honored Marion County’s No Horsin’ Around Program with a $10,000 donation presented at the Summit. Horse Farms Forever received a $125,000 bequest from the Cathy D. Perry estate, presented by Cathy’s son, Brandon Perry and his wife, Diannah.

I’ve been coming to OBS since I was 10 years old. It is the Marion County horse industry that has moved me to Ocala several times throughout my life, as an assistant farm manager, large animal veterinary technician and as a Thoroughbred farm owner. It was so surreal to say the least to present this check in honor of Brandon’s moms legacy last night to Horse Farms Forever to help preserve and protect the horse country that I love, at the place that brought me to Ocala so many years ago.

Diannah Perry

Philanthropist, Realtor and Founding Member of Horse Farms Forever

HFF Staff: Michelle Grald, Sara Fennessy and Busy Shires with Mallory Lykes Dimmit of the Florida Wildlife Corridor and Carlton Ward, Jr., National Geographic Explorer and author of Path of the Panther, Bernie Little.

A Promising Partnership

Conservation Florida and the Florida Wildlife Corridor are valuable partners as we continue the conversation about conservation in Marion County, particularly in the area of conservation easements, which are the only way to permanently and irrevocably preserve tracts of land that are privately owned.

GALLERY

Photos by Sean Dowie Photography

The rainy evening didn’t put a damper on the enthusiasm from the audience.

Rubbish the raccoon, the mascot for Marion County’s No Horsin’ Around Litter Clean Up Campaign kicked off the program and showed us some moves.

Mary Jane Hunt (far right) from the Saint Bernard Foundation presented a check for $10,000 to Marion County’s No Horsin’ Around Litter Campaign. She is shown here with County Administrator Mounir Bouyones, Mark Johnson, Rubbish, Commissioner Michelle Stone and Commissioner Craig Curry.

Nate and Dasha Chambers with Matt Marcin of J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

Mallory Lykes Dimmitt with Danna Bramlett and Adrienne Lewis of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

HFF Board Member Paul Kaplan with Commissioner Michelle Stone and her husband, Charlie Stone.

HFF Board Members: George Isaacs, Paul Kaplan, Elma Garcia Cannavino, and Bernie Little along with Attorney Matt Brockway from Icard Merrill.

Bridlewood Farm’s General Manager, George Isaacs, who is an HFF Board Member and is also the current president of the FTBOA, along with HFF Director of Conservation Strategies, Busy Shires.

Ocala Horse Properties’ Principals, Chris and Rob Desino, who are Founders of Horse Farms Forever. Rob currently serves as the Board Vice President.

Amy Mangan, Executive Director of AdventHealth Ocala Foundation, HFF’s Sara Fennessy and Sheriff Billy Woods

Dilan Bower-Desino, Rob Desino, Chris Desino, Nancy DeCavaignac, Matt Varney and the ever-present Rubbish the Raccoon.

So many new faces!

This young man bravely marched up to the microphone to have a conversation about conservation with Carlton.

Rubbish was everyone’s favorite photo buddy. Here he is with Tammy Dowie

Commissioner Michelle Stone with Rubbish.

Jorge Garcia-Bengochea, Executive Director of Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses was on site to introduce everyone to one of their therapy horses and tell the story of their mission to bring big hope to people through their tiny horses.

HFF Board President, Bernie Little.

Mireille Doffegnies, BEMER Distributor & Team Manager

Bernie Little, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, Sam Smidt, and Billy Van Pelt of the American Farmland Trust

The book signings were a big hit.

Mark Emery with Conservation Florida’s Traci Deen and John and Shirley Rudnianyn.

Thank you, Sponsors!

For the fourth year in a row, Brook Ledge Horse Transportation has delivered us as our Title Sponsor. We are so thankful for Brook Ledge and the support of close to sixty other businesses, individuals and nonprofits that stepped up to sponsor the 2023 Conservation Summit.

Silver

Bronze

Media Partners

 

 

 

For an official press release, images and press passes, go here.

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

Save the Dates: 10/26 and 10/27 for Two Events about the County’s Transfer of Development Rights Program

Save the Dates: 10/26 and 10/27 for Two Events about the County’s Transfer of Development Rights Program

Join Horse Farms Forever for two events in October to discuss how Marion County’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program can help protect the Farmland Preservation Area and other rural lands in the County. 

TDR Roundtable, Phase 2

Thursday, October 26th from 10AM to 12PM

Auditorium at the S.E. Livestock Pavilion

Marion County’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program is a key component in protecting the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) and other rural lands. In 2022, Horse Farms Forever hired Rick Pruetz, an FAICP professional planner and nationally known expert on TDR programs to evaluate the TDR program to determine why the program is underutilized. Rick compiled his research into a Draft Findings Report, which will be presented at the October 26th TDR Roundtable.

The Roundtable will be facilitated by Horse Farms Forever Founder Member Elisabeth Brinton, who is a former Corporate Vice President of Sustainability at Microsoft, and also owns a horse farm in the FPA.

The first TDR Roundtable was held on April 14th at Golden Ocala with a diverse group of 25 community stakeholders including land use attorneys, engineers, planners as well as Growth Services staff, and elected officials.

RSVP to busy.shires@horsefarmsforever.com and to receive a copy of the Draft Findings Report on Marion County’s TDR Program.

Ocala CEP Friday Talks

Friday, October 27th from 8:15 AM to 9:30 AM

Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership – Upstairs Douglas P. Cone Boardroom

Hear from nationally recognized expert, Rick Pruetz, FAICP and Ray Mazzie, Managing Partner, Southern Waters Capital on Marion County’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program and the recent utilization of 72 TDR credits to increase the density of a residential development by 72 units.

Friday Talks, sponsored by TD Bank, features speakers sharing their knowledge on a variety of business education and financial literacy topics. The sessions are held at the CEP in the Douglas P. Cone Boardroom beginning with networking at 8:15am. A light breakfast is served.

RSVP to Andrea@OcalaCEP.com

Thank You to Our 2023 Conservation Summit Sponsors!

Thank You to Our 2023 Conservation Summit Sponsors!

Horse Farms Forever® wants to sincerely thank all of the 2023 Conservation Summit Sponsors thus far. We are looking forward to an incredible event, and couldn’t do it without you!

Join us for a Conversation about Conservation, and hear from Carlton Ward Jr., the National Geographic Explorer and Conservation Photographer as he shares the story about how photographing the elusive and endangered Florida Panther in south Florida led to the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act and $800 million in funding for the corridor. Carlton’s quest was documented in  Path of the Panther, an award-winning film produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

We will also hear from Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, CEO of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and Traci Deen, President and CEO of Conservation Florida.

2023 Conservation Summit Sponsors

Title Sponsor

horse-farms-forever-farmland-preservation-area-ocala-marion-county

Silver Sponsors

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Bronze Sponsors

 

 

Media Partners

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Special Guests

 

*Sponsors as of October 18th, 2023.

There are still 2023 Conservation Summit Sponsorship Opportunities Available!

Come meet our special guests, the Gentle Carousel Miniature Horses!

Carlton Ward, Jr to be Keynote Speaker at Horse Farms Forever’s Conservation Summit

Carlton Ward, Jr to be Keynote Speaker at Horse Farms Forever’s Conservation Summit

Ocala, FL – August 25, 2023 – Horse Farms Forever, Inc.® is pleased to announce that Carlton Ward, Jr, a National Geographic Explorer and photographer, will be the Keynote Speaker at the Fourth Annual Conservation Summit to be held on Thursday, November 16 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company.

Join us for a Conversation about Conservation as Carlton shares the story about photographing the first female Florida panther documented north of the Caloosahatchee River since 1973. Carlton’s quest to photograph the elusive and endangered Florida Panther was documented in the “Path of the Panther,” an award-winning documentary film produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Carlton’s photograph of Babs, as the panther is affectionately named, shows that the range of the Florida panther has expanded north from the Everglades. This expansion is the key to the panther’s recovery, but their long-term survival depends on protecting land within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

“If we can show the world who that panther is, that’s going to be the spark to save this whole corridor,” said Carlton in the Path of the Panther film preview.

The Path of the Panther film has already made an impact by inspiring the passage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act in 2021, which helped secure over $800 million in state funding for land conservation. Since the Act was passed in 2021, nearly 120,000 acres of land have been approved for conservation.

“I want everyone who sees the film to have tremendous pride in the state of Florida and know about the Florida Wildlife Corridor and the importance of it for the state’s future,” said Carlton “That’s why our team spent so many years focusing on the Florida panther. It’s a symbol of the need for protecting the corridor.”

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is an existing, nearly contiguous network of land that stretches from the Panhandle to the Florida Keys over about 18 million acres. Nearly 10 million acres has been conserved as public lands and as private lands that are protected with a conservation easement, but about half of the corridor is at risk of being developed.

About 40% of Marion County is included as part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The Ocala National Forest at over 430,000 acres in Marion County, is one of the largest pieces of the Florida Wildlife Corridor puzzle. The goal is to connect additional conservation lands such as the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway and Silver Springs State Park by protecting private land with conservation easements. A portion of the Farmland Preservation Area in northwest Marion County is also part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Two of the key partner organizations working to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor will also be speaking at the 2023 Conservation Summit. Mallory Lykes Dimmitt is the CEO of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, which champions a collaborative campaign to connect, protect, and restore the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Traci Deen is the President and CEO of Conservation Florida, a statewide land conservancy focused on protecting natural and agricultural landscapes with a primary focus on saving land within the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

By conserving private ranches and farms as part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, this also allows agriculture operations to continue to contribute to the economy and to the production of food, timber, and other resources vital to the prosperity of Florida.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is a statewide network of over 18 million acres that supports wildlife, people, and communities. It runs from the panhandle all the way to the tip of the peninsula. The Florida Wildlife Corridor already exists. The goal is to ensure continued connection between public land and green spaces across the state through private and public land conservation.

Path of the Panther

The Path of the Panther tells the story of how a group of photographers, veterinarians, ranchers, conservationists, and indigenous people joined forces to track and protect the endangered Florida panther. In this moving documentary, stunning images of the big cats spur the movement to restore a majestic keystone species as well as a dwindling wilderness.

The Florida Panther

The Florida panther is more than just an icon for Florida’s last wild places. It is a conservation keystone. The panther is an umbrella species with the largest terrestrial home range in the state, protecting dozens of other species in its domain. Reaching near extinction in the 1950’s, the Florida panther was among the first to be added to the U.S. Endangered Species list in 1973.

Protecting land for the panther is important for people and communities too because connected habitat helps provide clean air and drinking water, as well as other benefits like pollination of food crops and flood mitigation from heavy rains or hurricanes. The panther population has rebounded from about 30 adults to nearly 200 today. But the species faces a multitude of new challenges.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation

Conservation Florida

Horse Farms Forever Hosts Roundtable on Transfer of Development Rights

Horse Farms Forever Hosts Roundtable on Transfer of Development Rights

The Horse Farms Forever TDR Roundtable meeting on Friday, April 14th at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club was an opportunity for 25 community stakeholders to provide feedback about Marion County’s Transfer of Development Rights program. The purpose of the TDR program is to help protect farmland and natural resources in Marion County by providing financial incentives to landowners and program participants.

Photos by Sean Dowie.

On Friday, April 14th before our Spring Speaker Series event at Golden Ocala, Horse Farms Forever® (HFF) held a Roundtable meeting with a diverse group of 25 community stakeholders to provide feedback on Marion County’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program.

Since the County’s TDR program is a key component in protecting the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA), HFF hired Rick Pruetz, an FAICP professional planner and nationally known expert on TDR programs to evaluate the program to determine why the program is underutilized. Rick compiled his research into a Preliminary Findings Report, which was presented at the Roundtable on April 14th.

HFF decided to focus on the TDR program because while the boundaries of the FPA and the protective language of the HFF Text Amendment are included in Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan, these can both be changed with a 3-2 vote of the County Commission. The only way to permanently protect land from development is with a conservation easement, and the TDR program is one of the programs available to landowners who want to preserve their land.

If a landowner chooses to participate in the TDR program and preserve their land with a conservation easement, they receive Transferable Development Credits (TDCs) which they can sell to another landowner to increase the density of designated lands inside Marion County’s Urban Growth Boundary.

A Well-Rounded Discussion

Members of the TDR Roundtable included top leadership at the County including Marion County Commissioner Michelle Stone, County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes, and Assistant County Administrator Tracy Straub. The Growth Services Department was represented by Director Chuck Varadin, Deputy Director Kenneth Weyrauch, and Senior Planner Christopher Rison. In addition, several land use planners and attorneys, two of the largest landowners, one of the top real estate firms, two HFF Board Members, and a representative from On Top of the World, also participated in the Roundtable discussion.

The goal of the TDR Roundtable was to provide feedback on Rick’s Preliminary Findings Report and to determine if there was consensus to move forward with updating the program.

The Roundtable was facilitated by HFF Founder Member Elisabeth Brinton, former Corporate Vice President of Sustainability at Microsoft, who also owns a horse farm in the FPA. There was a lively discussion about why the program was not working and how it might be improved, but with Elisabeth’s tactful facilitation of the diverse viewpoints, the stakeholders agreed to move forward with Phase 2 of the TDR Review Program.

What We Learned

Some of the feedback from the Roundtable included:

While Phase 1 focused on providing feedback on the Preliminary Findings Report, Phase 2 will focus on how, and if, to move forward with updates to the TDR program.

Ten Factors for Success

Rick evaluated Marion County’s TDR Program against a framework of the ten factors found in the most successful TDR programs in the United States. He concluded that Marion County’s program ranked high in the public’s support for farmland preservation, but could benefit from work in four of the ten factors.

“Marion County shows strong public support for the preservation of the Farmland Preservation Area, which has been a feature of the County’s Comprehensive Plan for almost two decades,” the Preliminary Findings Report stated.

Out of the ten factors, Rick recommended focusing on four factors that would be most important to the success of the Marion County TDR program:

  1. Reduce Ability to Gain Increased Development Potential Without Using TDR
  2. Create More Demand for TDR
  3. Form a TDR Bank
  4. Determine an Effective Price for Transferable Development Credits (TDC)

As part of Phase 2, Rick will compile a Findings Report. This report will incorporate the suggestions from the Roundtable and additional input from the community. Then, sometime in late summer or early fall, HFF will host another TDR Roundtable. This meeting may be a held as a public workshop so that all five of the Marion County Commissioners are able to attend.

The TDR program is one of the tools available to landowners, who want to preserve their farm, but the program needs to be updated in order to transform it into a win-win solution to inspire both landowners and developers to utilize the program.

Mounir Bouyounes, Marion County Administrator, addresses the roundtable discussion, while Matthew Brockway, Shareholder & Treasurer, Icard & Merrill and HFF Attorney; County Commissioner Michelle Stone; and Marion County Assistant Administrator, Public Works and Growth Services, Tracy Straub listen alongside him.

Fred Roberts, Jr., Attorney, Klein & Klein, LLC; Chuck Varadin, Director, Marion County Growth Services; and Kenneth Weyrauch, Deputy Director, Marion County Growth Services

Rick Pruetz shares his Marion County findings and Elisabeth Brinton,  Corporate Vice President of Sustainability, Microsoft (retired), HFF Founder Member, facilitates the discussion.

The Roundtable included many of the County’s most prominent developers and planners. They are a critical part of any discussion of TDRs.

Join the Conversation

Horse Farms Forever invites you to be a part of this important community wide conversation about how to protect the Farmland Preservation Area. With your support, we can help preserve land and natural resources and also steer growth to appropriate areas in the Urban Growth Boundary.

Back Row L to R:
Chuck Varadin, Director, Marion County Growth Services
Kenneth Weyrauch, Deputy Director, Marion County Growth Services
John Rudnianyn, CCIM, ALC, International Property Services, Corp.
Paul Kaplan, Wellington Management Co. (retired), HFF Founder and Director
Matthew Brockway, Shareholder & Treasurer, Icard & Merrill, HFF Attorney
John Piotti, President, American Farmland Trust
George Isaacs, General Manager, Bridlewood Farm, HFF Founder and Director
Paolo Mastroserio, P.E., Mastroserio Engineering, Inc.
Bernie Little, President and Founder, Horse Farms Forever, Inc.
Matt Varney, Realtor/Broker, Ocala Horse Properties, HFF Founder Member
Robert Batsel, Jr., Attorney, Gooding & Batsel, PLLC
Todd Rudnianyn, CCIM, International Property Services, Corp.
Jimmy Gooding, Partner, Gooding & Bastel, PLLC
Fred Roberts, Jr, Attorney, Klein & Klein, LLC.
Rick Pruetz, FAICP

Front Row L to R:
Michelle Stone, Marion County Commissioner, District 5, Representing the Farmland Preservation Area
Christopher Rison, Senior Planner, Marion County Growth Services
Paul Caspersen, Director of Planned Giving, American Farmland Trust
Mounir Bouyounes, P.E., County Administrator, Marion County
Sara Powell Fennessy, Director of Community Affairs, HFF Staff
Busy Shires, Director of Conservation Strategies, HFF Staff
Tamara Fleischhaker, Chief Experience Officer, Ocala Metro CEP
Elisabeth Brinton, Corporate Vice President of Sustainability, Microsoft (retired), Owner, Serenity Spring Farm, HFF Founder Member
Kenneth Metcalf, AICP, Dir. of Planning & Development Services, Stearns Weaver Miller, P.A.
Tracy Straub, P.E., Assistant County Administrator, Public Works & Growth Services
David Tillman, P.E., Tillman & Associates Engineering, LLC

Busy Shires

What About Zoning?

The Zoning regulations are found in the Land Development Code, which is a separate document with specific guidelines to implement the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.

Zoning regulates development through land use classifications and specifies the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. The Land Development Code was adopted through a series of ordinances by the County Commission, which means that the regulations cannot be changed or waived, except by a further vote of the County Commission.