Once proposed for mine location, panther habitat to be protected

October 13, 2021

By Amber Cooks | Environmental Policy Manager

On September 21, 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis and his cabinet approved an option agreement allowing the state to move forward with the purchase of two parcels totaling 1,638 acres within the “Devil’s Garden” Florida Forever project in Hendry County. 

These acquisitions are surrounded by the Okaloacoochee Slough Wildlife Management Area and State Forest, in an ecologically sensitive area of Southwest Florida.

Deer hiding in the vegetation
Deer hiding in vegetation after a prescribed fire on Spirit-of-the-Wild Wildlife Management Area near the Keri Road Sand Mine site, Photo by Amber Crooks

One of these parcels approved for acquisition is known as the site of the proposed Keri Road Sand Mine. Since 2010, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida has fought the proposal to utilize the 896–acres site as a sand mine. Two of the three required authorizations were approved, despite our relentless objection and advocacy.

Since then, we have contacted local, state, and federal decision-makers repeatedly to educate them about the importance of this property and object to the destruction of this site.

Purchase of these lands will not only add onto existing public lands but also secure lands –previously pursued for destructive mining- as protected habitats for species like the endangered Florida panther and threatened crested caracara.   This area is within the Florida Ecological Greenways Network and is a part of the Florida wildlife corridor. — In other words, not the best place for a sand mine that would have not only destroyed viable habitat, degraded our public lands, but also would have added mine traffic to an already-deadly roadway for panthers. More than 15 panthers have been killed on this stretch of road.

We are hopeful to see that the future of this site looks to be one of conservation and not the disastrous mine that we fought against for the better part of a decade.