Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape

  • Florida

  • Established 2016

About

Located in south central Florida between Orlando and Lake Okeechobee, the Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape (APAFRSL) covers approximately 1,700,000 acres of land, anchored by the US Air Force’s largest primary air-to-ground training range east of the Mississippi River which is used by every branch of the Armed Forces. The region is known for its rich biodiversity, nature-dependent rural economies rooted in a culture of ranching, and the Lake Wales Ridge - a globally unique ecosystem that is home to many rare and endangered plant and animal species and one of Florida’s most productive aquifers, supplying water to more than 1 million people. As the headwaters of the Everglades, the landscape plays a crucial role in water quality, quantity, and storage capacity and houses the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, a 900-acre parcel that offers excellent public outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. The sentinel landscape also contains a sizable portion of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a state legislative and executive priority area for wildlife connectivity conservation and protection of rural economies.

In 2016, more than 30 local partners collaboratively formed the APAFRSL to protect the region’s natural resources, support agricultural working lands, strengthen military readiness, and provide educational and recreational opportunities while contributing to Florida’s economy. Within the landscape, willing landowners receive technical land management and financial assistance. Among the many options available to landowners is establishing conservation easements which enable landowners to keep their land in perpetuity for future generations, while usually continuing to maintain agricultural operations.

Interactive Landscape Map

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Total Funding by Partner

Partner Funding Through Fiscal Year 2021 In Millions
PartnerFY2015FY2016FY2017FY2018FY2019FY2020FY2021FY2022
USDA $0.92M $0.57M $1.47M $1.58M $13.32M $0.0M $3.41M $0.98M
DoD $1.50M $6.60M $1.00M $1.20M $2.00M $2.85M $5.99M $2.50M
DOI $3.15M $7.24M $2.80M $3.10M $2.08M $0.0M $0.04M $0.12M
State $1.64M $7.42M $6.70M $4.32M $39.49M $1.24M $14.23M $9.69M
Local $0.00M $0.00M $0.56M $0.60M $0.69M $0.50M $0.0M $0.0M
Private $0.65M $0.00M $0.00M $1.44M $1.82M $0.0M $0.14M $0.0M

Total Acres Protected and Enrolled

Acres Protected (Since Designation)68786.00
Acres Enrolled (During FY22)41337.00

Improving Water Quality in the Everglades Watershed

Sentinel landscape partners support the Everglades by improving water quality, quantity, and storage capacity in the Northern Everglades Watershed. As of 2018, sentinel landscape partners have successfully enrolled more than 9,000 acres of private land in the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Wetland Reserve Program and over 1,000 acres of private land in the South Florida Water Management District’s Dispersed Water Management Program.

Increasing Public Access to Recreation

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission collaborated to establish a 1,500-acre unit within the Everglades Headwaters Wildlife Management Area that is open to the public for hunting and recreation. Similarly, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. FWS are working together to offer hunting and other public recreational opportunities on other parcels, including 4,000 acres of ranch land that the partners acquired.

Protecting National Security and Endangered Species at the Avon Park Air Force Range

As a result of land development, multiple species listed under the Endangered Species Act seek refuge on the 100,000 plus acres of the Avon Park Air Force Range.

In 2019, the Range surpassed its recovery goal for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) by documenting 40 potential RCW breeding groups. Avon Park Air Force Range accomplished its objective by partnering with the Archbold Biological Station, which has helped the installation monitor and manage the species for over two decades. The Avon Park Air Force Range Wildland Fire Support Module, an interagency collaborative consisting of representatives from the Air Force, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Colorado State University, also supported the installation in its efforts to reach the recovery goal.

In October of 2023, five new pairs of RCWs were translocated by scientists to the Air Force Range, highlighting the military’s dedicated role in their conservation. 

In July 2023, the  Range, continuing its strong partnership with the Archbold Biological Station and the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, successfully released captively bred Grasshopper Sparrows. These tiny birds are considered the most endangered bird in the continental United States, having lost most of their prairie habitat to development. While a surprising place for wildlife to survive, the Range provides some of the last remaining grassland habitat needed by these birds.

More than 40 state and federally listed species can be found within the entire Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape, which partners and private landowners work diligently to protect.

Landowners Receive Priority Consideration for Federal Assistance

Private landowners whose properties are within the Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape boundary receive priority consideration for the NRCS Agricultural Land Easement Program. This program protects the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing the conversion of working lands to non-agricultural uses. NRCS has already protected more than 15,000 acres of working land within the sentinel landscape since its designation and continues making landowners aware of this program. To learn more about opportunities for assistance, please visit our interactive landowner resources tool.

Enhancing the Conservation Easement Process

In 2018, sentinel landscape partners created the first joint Department of Defense (DoD)—Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation easement by merging Air Force easement language with USDA requirements. Through that easement, the USDA and DoD permanently protected 1,600 acres of ranch land around a critical military testing and training area. The groundbreaking project eliminated redundancies in government spending, strengthened the installation’s air mission, and protected central Florida’s water resources.

Florida Wildlife Corridor

The Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape contains a significant portion of lands that make up the Florida Wildlife Corridor, providing some of the largest remaining parcels of  habitat needed for species’ survival and  movement. APAFRSL partners and landowners work to maintain these lands recognizing their importance to community  drinking water supplies; economic vitality from recreation, ranching, and fishing;  reduction of  greenhouse gases and relief from increasing temperatures; and wildlife, including many imperiled species such as the Florida panther, black bear, Red-cockaded woodpeckers, Scrub Jay, and many more. To learn more about how the Wildlife Corridor helps conserve water resources, read the report here. To learn more about the challenges faced by wildlife in Florida, watch the award-winning film @PathofthePanther – a tale of the endangered Florida panther, the last big cat surviving in the eastern United States, and the fight to save its Everglades home.

Our Partners

In The News

  • Avon Park Bombing Range Awarded a Sentinel Landscape Partnership

    In this article, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation recognizes the value of Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape designation. The Florida Farm Bureau highlights that local farmers stand to benefit from this designation as new opportunities are recognized.

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  • Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Article in the New Yorker

    Efforts to save the critically endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow are underway at Avon Park Air Force Range, where over seven hundred birds have been released into the wild as part of a conservation initiative aimed at countering habitat loss and environmental threats in Florida, a state grappling with the challenge of preserving its unique but vulnerable wildlife.

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  • Stewards of the Land-Air Force Ranges Support Environmental and Cultural Conservation

    In this article, Airman Magazine recognizes Avon Park Air Force Range and Nellis Air Force Base as strong stewards of natural and cultural resources. The article specifically highlights Avon Park Air Force Range’s management of threatened and endangered species.

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  • Central Florida Regional Planning Council Organizes Landowner Assistance Expo

    In this article, the Florida Regional Councils Association highlights central Florida’s Landowner Assistance Expo. The Expo was a component of the Central Florida Regional Planning Council’s coordination of the Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape Partnership.

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  • Fridays on the Farm: Embracing Conservation on a Florida Cattle Ranch

    In this article, working farmers in Okeechobee County, Florida share their journey to becoming successful American ranchers; from their early roots on a family farm in Havana Cuba to managing a thriving plant nursery and cattle farm near Avon Park Florida.

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  • Nature lovers identify hundreds of plant species at DeLuca Preserve BioBlitz

    Nearly 100 nature lovers flocked to DeLuca Preserve near the Avon Park Sentinel Landscape for a BioBlitz, an event in which teams of volunteers work together to find and identify as many species as possible. 

    Read More

Resources

  • 2023 Avon Park Sentinel Landscape Profile

  • MOU for Coordination of Florida Sentinel Landscapes

  • Path of the Panther Official Trailer

  • Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape Conservation Guide

  • Landowner Assistance Expo Briefings

Meet the Coordinator

Sheila McNamara

smcnamara@cfrpc.org

Sheila McNamara serves as the Coordinator for the Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape working to protect continuity of military missions, working agricultural lands, and protection of wildlife and natural resources by empowering private landowners. She also serves as the Regional Resiliency Manager for the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, where she works with members of the Heartland Regional Resiliency Coalition and community partners on vulnerability assessments, nature-based solutions, and regional resiliency planning efforts.

Sheila has more than 25 years of service leadership experience in strategic planning and implementation, land and water management, agriculture and environmental stewardship, sustainability and resiliency, and education focused on proactively protecting and sustaining historical, cultural, and ecological significance while balancing economic needs. Prior to coming to CFRPC, Sheila led the Sustainability Office for Hillsborough County, FL and the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act Agricultural & Silvicultural Program in Virginia.  Sheila firmly believes that sound science and education drive collaboration, leading to opportunities for collaboration and mutual gains.

 

“The Sentinel Landscapes [Partnership] provides a vehicle to expedite estate planning, provide liquidity for disinterested shareholders, and prevent fragmentation of a holistic landscape and cow/calve production unit. I see it as a blessing for all.”

Mr. James Wohl, Owner and Operator of Rafter T Ranch