A partnership between Conservation Florida, the Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Department of Defense secured funding to create a conservation easement for Phillip Rucks Citrus Nursery. The easement provides protection for rare upland wildlife and plant species. The 320-acre nursery is conserved in perpetuity and will never be developed, but will remain productive agricultural land, according to Conservation Florida.
Phillip Rucks established the nursery in Frostproof in 1997. It is the largest screened commercial citrus nursery in the United States, with propagations of one million trees annually. The private land is surrounded by state-owned land and is half-a-mile from the Avon Park Air Force Range, a 106,000-acre government bombing range located in Polk and Highlands counties.
Conservation Florida stated that the Rucks nursery is home to critical habitat within the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest and Avon Park Air Force Range Sentinel Landscape.
The project provides a wildlife corridor and protects water resources, Conservation Florida added. The project also provides a buffer that ensures the Florida Forest Service will be able to continue to conduct prescribed fires and implement other necessary land-management activities.
Lake Wales Ridge State Forest provides a habitat for at least 33 plants and 36 animals currently having federal or state status as threatened or endangered, Conservation Florida reported. This list includes the scrub-jay, a bird found only in Florida’s rare scrub areas, and the sand skink, which is found on high-elevation ridges. Rare and endangered plants include the pygmy fringe tree, scrub plum, Carter’s mustard, scrub-blazing star and bear grass.
“Rucks Nursery is a fantastic example of conservation partnerships in action,” said Adam Bass, vice president of conservation at Conservation Florida. “I’m proud that Conservation Florida, in partnership with Polk County and the Department of Defense, was able to provide a conservation outcome for Mr. Rucks and his family.”
Conservation Florida is a statewide accredited land conservancy working to conserve Florida’s water, wildlife and wild places and to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
Source: Conservation Florida