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A 157-acre tract southeast of Camp Blanding was bought for conservation with funding routed through the Clay County Development Authority and a federal defense readiness grant program.

A 157-acre tract southeast of Camp Blanding was bought for conservation with funding routed through the Clay County Development Authority and a federal defense readiness grant program. (The Florida Times-Union/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) A Jacksonville nonprofit has bought 157 acres of Putnam County woodlands for conservation, using money from agencies trying to prevent development around Camp Blanding in neighboring Clay County.

The North Florida Land Trust bought the property adjoining Etoniah Creek State Forest from timber giant Weyerhaeuser Corp. as part of a long-term effort to protect a vast corridor for wildlife movement called the O2O Corridor, between the Ocala and Osceola national forests. The corridor is expected to be important long-term to wildlife including Florida black bears, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes and red-cockaded woodpeckers.

The $472,600 purchase also has immediate benefits around Camp Blanding, however.

The property acquired from Weyerhaeuser Corp. enlarges the area around Etoniah Creek State Forest that’s preserved for conservation in northern Putnam County, southeast of Camp Blanding in Florida.

The property acquired from Weyerhaeuser Corp. enlarges the area around Etoniah Creek State Forest that’s preserved for conservation in northern Putnam County, southeast of Camp Blanding in Florida. (The Florida Times-Union/TNS)

"This acquisition accomplishes many things. It provides a critical linkage between the Etoniah Creek State Forest and Camp Blanding, provides for wildlife migration, and protects Camp Blanding from encroachment," land trust President Jim McCarthy said in an announcement about the deal.

The property, southeast of the Florida National Guard's camp, is north of Florida 100 inside an area that defense officials consider a "compatible use buffer" where the military wants to avoid development that might interfere with Guard training and other base operations.

The Florida Defense Support Task Force, a board created by the Florida Legislature, provided funds for the purchase through the Clay County Development Authority, with money also coming from U.S. Department of Defense's Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program.

The land trust described the property, which includes wetlands for creeks that feed Etoniah Creek, as "a critical linkage for wildlife habitat and fire management."

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