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Volunteers Needed to Watchdog County Environmental Lands Program

Conservation Lands Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee (CLASAC) Will Guide Purchases and Management

Following voter approval of Polk Foever, a new 20-year environmental land tax passed last November, Polk County is reactivating its long-standing citizen's committee that successfully guided a prior 20-year effort.

The Board of County Commissioners this week approved the re-creation of the Polk County Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee (CLASAC). As an advisory committee, CLASAC members will review potential Polk County land acquisitions for conservation purposes and make recommendations to the Board. They will consider the land's water resources, its natural communities and landscape values, its plants and animals, its value to humans and the practicality of managing the land.

The citizens of Polk County passed the original referendum in 1994 to fund conservation lands, which in turn created the Polk County Environmental Lands Program. During that 20 year program the county purchased, restored, and provided for continued maintenance of over 26,000 acres of conservation land. The County's ability to provide funding was essential to attracting matching monies, and it is estimated that about 70% of the Polk Environmental Lands projects were paid for via matching funds from other agencies.

Dozens of rare, endangered, or threatened species share the benefits of Polk's Environmental Lands Program. Examples of successful Environmental Lands purchases near Lake Wales are the Crooked Lake Prairie and Crooked Lake Sandhill, Walk-in-water Creek Trail, which features oaks draped with tillandsia, resurrection fern and wild orchids, and Sumica, a piney trail where the old railroad town used to stand during timber days.

Perhaps the most famous is Circle B Bar Reserve near Lakeland, hosts as many as 5,000 visitors a day during busy seasons. Most of these lands have recreational opportunities for the public like hiking trails, water activities, horseback trails, bird and animal watching, and educational programs. They also provide environmental functions like filtering the pollutants in surface or waste water from nearby cities, and help protect against flooding.

The conservation lands program will once again be funded by a property tax of two-tenths of a mill, amounting to about $35 per year for a typical home.

CLASAC will consist of representatives from the business and agricultural communities, environmental groups, the phosphate industry and professionals with land use experience. CLASAC members also will be responsible for commenting on proposed land management plans. They will serve four-year terms and may serve successive terms without limitation.

Applications for Polk County residents interested in serving on the committee may be downloaded at polknature.com. Applications must be returned to [email protected] by close of business on Wednesday, March 15. Members will be selected by the BoCC in May.

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