From: Isaac Sabetai, Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach
Published December 3, 2004 12:00 AM

Florida Buys Portion of Blackwater River State Forest

Dec. 3—The Blackwater River State Forest will expand after the Florida Division of Forestry purchased a large swath of privately owned land located in the middle of the forest.

On Wednesday, the forestry division and International Paper Company closed on the sale of a 4,620-acre parcel of land in northern Santa Rosa County.

The property was the largest chunk of land inside the forest not owned by the state.

"This will preserve the property as forest," said Tom Serviss, a forestry resource administrator with the division of forestry. "It will be open to the public to use." The property helps the project make the Blackwater River State Park, Blackwater River State Forest, Eglin Air Force Base and Conecuh National Forest in Alabama a series of public land.

By buying the land, the division of forestry blocked any development on it.

"The county has development constraints, but there's no way to project what will happen down the road," Serviss said. "It is now conserved forest land for the future." The Nature Conservancy, a private nonprofit agency dedicated to protecting environmentally sensitive land, assisted Florida with the acquisition.

"It's been on the division of forestry's wish list for a long time," said Callie DeHaven, a senior field representative with the Nature Conservancy. "We're all thrilled with the possibilities." The purchase price was not available Thursday. The transaction has not been recorded in the Santa Rosa County Clerk of Court's office. Often records are not recorded immediately after a sale has been finalized.

Several tributaries of the Blackwater River cross the land. The property has the potential to house the endangered flatwood salamanders, according to Serviss.

The forest also contains many rare and threatened species such as the hummingbird flower, Florida pine snake, Say's spike-tail dragonfly and tiger salamander.

The recently purchased land will boost the forest's area by about 2.4 percent to a total of more than 194,000 acres.

"It's a big hunk of land," Serviss said of the state's new acquisition.

The Blackwater River State Forest stretches into Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties.

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© 2004, Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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