CTF Helps Ranching Family Save 1,375 Acres Near Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee

Ralph Pelaez with his daughter, Stephanie Pelaez and grandson McKinley on their 1,375-acre ranch in Okeechobee County. Photo by Randy Batista.

Gainesville, Florida (May 1, 2017) – The Conservation Trust for Florida (CTF), a leader in statewide conservation, announced the protection of a 1,375-acre cattle ranch in Okeechobee County.

A conservation easement, purchased by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) for $3.25 million, now permanently protects the land’s natural resources and sustains the Peleaz & Sons’ agricultural operation.

“This is the 29th easement on over 21,265 acres that the program has acquired since 2010 on behalf of the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund of the State of Florida and continues our tradition of sustaining family-owned agricultural properties that also provide significant value to Florida’s large conservation landscapes,” noted John Browne, Land Programs Administrator with DACS’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

CTF’s role

The Conservation Trust for Florida helped the landowner navigate the transaction process, provided real estate expertise and facilitated the easement purchase. The Florida Forest Service will monitor the property to ensure compliance with the terms of the conservation easement.

Pelaez & Sons history

The Pelaez & Sons cow/calf ranch has been in continuous operation since the 1950s when Abel Pelaez came to the United States from Colombia. His son, Ralph Pelaez, now owns the land where he and his family use best management practices to raise their cattle.

“My family has always been committed to ranching and the conservation of this land,” said Pelaez. “I am very grateful to the Conservation Trust for Florida and the Rural and Family Lands Program for helping me establish this legacy for my children and grandchildren.”

Their ranching operation is a model and is visited annually by the University of Florida beef production class for educational purposes.

In addition to its agricultural features, the property has high conservation value. Ecological communities include pastureland, wet prairie, prairie hammock and freshwater marsh.

Conservation values

Located east of the Kissimmee River and eight miles north of Lake Okeechobee, the property is in a key location for watershed protection. It is adjacent to a federal wetlands reserve program easement and is near South Florida Water Management District conservation lands.

It is also home to, and contains suitable habitat for, many species such as the Eastern Indigo snake, Crested Caracara, Sandhill Crane, Gopher Tortoise, Sherman’s Fox Squirrel, Bald Eagle, Southeastern American Kestrel, Burrowing Owl, Wood Stork, and Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.

What is a conservation easement?

Conservation easements are voluntary, legal agreements between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that protect conservation values. Landowners may continue to own and use land, sell it, donate it, or pass it on to heirs, but the easement ‘runs with the land.’ If the land is inherited or sold the easement and its restrictions stay in place.

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