Water-Related News

From scrub to wetlands: 5 properties recommended for Polk conservation lands program

Voters approved property tax last year to fund program

What will be the next addition to a roster that includes Circle B Bar Reserve, Lakeland Highlands Scrub and Crooked Lake Prairie?

A committee submitted a report earlier this month on properties that Polk County might acquire through its Environmental Lands Program, finding that five of the six candidates were worth pursuing. The recommended parcels range in size from 148 acres to 1,313 acres, and they encompass scrub, hardwood hammocks, pasture, wetlands and citrus groves.

The Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee presented its evaluation to the Polk County Commission at its Nov. 7 meeting, signaling movement toward reviving a process that had stalled following the expiration of funding in 2015.

A year ago, Polk County voters decisively approved a referendum creating a designated property tax to fund the land-conservation program for 20 years. The measure imposed an ad valorem tax of 20 cents for each $1,000 of taxable property value.

Polk County established the program in 1994 with the passage of a similar referendum. That tax generated about $84 million before it expired in 2015, enabling the county to obtain more than 25,000 acres for conservation. The most recognized acquisition, the 1,267-acre Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, is a former cattle ranch along Lake Hancock that has become one of Florida’s most popular birdwatching sites since a large portion was restored to its natural marshy conditions.