Family Donates 27,000 Acres to University of Florida for Conservation, Outdoor Classroom

Habitats for many species are dwindling, putting their future at risk. Thanks to a generous donation, one university has been given the chance to safeguard threatened animals and learn how best to protect their ecosystem.

Late last month, Elisabeth DeLuca and her family donated 27,000 acres to the University of Florida so the land could be protected and serve as a living laboratory for students. Located near Yeehaw Junction in Florida’s southern Osceola County, the property features cattle ranchlands, citrus groves, wetlands and forests.

It’s home to the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow, as well as state and federally listed species, including the Florida panther, gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker. Officials say the land is also a key conservation area for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

PHOTO: YOUTUBE/IFAS VIDEO

DeLuca says, “Few things in this world are as precious — and threatened — as our untamed lands and the wild animals that live there. We need to preserve what we can for the benefit of all of us. These acres are in good hands with the University of Florida, and it pleases me to know that UF will use them to learn more about our natural world and to train new generations of scientists and environmentalists.”

A use easement has also been given to Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit, wetland-conservation organization. Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, a citizen-supported nonprofit organization of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is playing a role, too. They’re helping with upkeep of the easement and facilitating conservation efforts.

PHOTO: YOUTUBE/IFAS VIDEO

Among the things UF plans to study are how hunting affects the ecosystem with regard to controlling wild boars; how cattle grazing impacts other animals, plants, and insects; land and forest management; and water storage and conservation. Student and researcher fieldwork will also be conducted, with several classes expected to be held on the land.

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UF President Ken Fuchs is excited about the potential of this acquisition.

He says, “Elisabeth DeLuca’s generous contribution of such a significant property is a gift to all Floridians and really, to people everywhere. The preservation of this land and what it will enable our scholars to learn, teach and achieve will reverberate around the globe.”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/MYFWC FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE

Scott Angle, UF’s vice president for agriculture and natural resources, also feels the land will be a very important resource for students and conservation.

He says, “The property is beautiful. It’s well-managed. It’s diverse. It’s been maintained to standards that very few pieces of property anywhere in the state of Florida are, so it becomes a living laboratory for our scientists and staff to study what the ecosystems of Florida have been, are now, and might be in the future.”

PHOTO: FACEBOOK/MYFWC FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE

The UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences hopes its research there will impact how land developers, conservationists and policymakers will balance growth, agriculture and preservation around the state.

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