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Conservation Florida Establishes Northwest Florida Advisory Council

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Conserve Florida
An aerial view of Wakulla Caves, one of the lands protected by Conserve Florida.

After more than two decades of protecting land in the state, Conservation Florida has recently added a Northwest Florida Advisory Council to protect land in the Panhandle. Pensacola Realtor Justin Beck will serve as chairman of the council.

The establishment of the Northwest Florida council started more than a year ago. Like many others, Beck was spending more time at home during the pandemic at his house which overlooks Bayou Texar.

“I just started to think about what was important to me,” he said. “With my background in real estate, I wanted to utilize that skill set to help preserve land.”

Realizing the area didn’t have a dedicated land trust, Beck sought to start one inspired by South Alabama Land Trust, which has protected more than 9,500 acres in coastal Alabama since 1990.

“I got connected with Traci Deen (Conservation Florida’s CEO) and we decided there was a void we could fill,” said Beck.

Conservation Florida was founded in 1999, with the mission of working with landowners to save Florida’s natural and agricultural landscapes. According to their website, the nonprofit has protected more than 25,000 acres and has protection projects totaling over 180,000 acres. Much of their work has been in the central region of the state. The Northwest Florida Advisory Council will be a “very localized” endeavor, said Beck.

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Justin Beck

“We’re not going to stop growth, but we want to protect our natural resources,” he said. “I want to have these wild landscapes preserved for my children and their children. The longleaf forest has some of my personal favorite pieces of property.”

Realtors and developers are not always seen as “the good guys” when it comes to conservation efforts. But Beck says there can be a common ground.

“Our natural resources are an amenity,” he said. “You can preserve sensitive areas and create green space by developing smaller lots, building up and not out. Housing is a hot topic…there are ways to try and not exacerbate the sprawl.”

As a statewide accredited land trust, Conservation Florida saves land by purchasing or accepting donations of lands and easements. The nonprofit also works to guide landowners through land protections processes. As Beck said, they work as a “conduit” through the complex process.

Beck said he appreciates that Conservation Florida is a non-partisan organization.

“There’s nothing adversarial here,” he said.

It’s also a fairly popular concept in the Sunshine State. Late last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act into law providing $400 million in funding to create a corridor that runs from the Panhandle to the Everglades and connects many of the state’s wildlife habitats. The law passed with unanimous support. Conservation Florida’s CEO Traci Deen said the signing of the law is a “big win” for land conservation.

Currently, Beck is in the process of building the rest of the advisory council. He said he’s looking for a diverse group in age and backgrounds from across Northwest Florida. Anyone with interest or ideas can contact Beck at jbeck@teambeck.com.

With real estate booming in Florida, Beck said he hears buyers express their love for “the old Florida” which is what brings them to the Panhandle.

“We want to protect that,” he said.