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Lightseys receive conservation legacy award

by PAUL CATALA

For decades, Cary Lightsey and his wife, Marcia, have been stalwart in their efforts and commitment to keeping Florida wild.

Conservation Florida, an Orlando-based nonprofit that works to protect Florida’s natural and agricultural landscapes, recently awarded the Lake Wales couple the Conservation Legacy Award for their commitment to wild Florida conservation and dedication to Conservation Florida.

The award was presented at Conservation Florida’s inaugural Sunshine State Evening on April 5 in Orlando.

A sixth-generation Florida rancher, Lightsey began partnering with Conservation Florida in 2020 and has since worked to protect critically endangered natural lands within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, including XL Ranch Lightsey Cove, a 527-acre ranch within of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The XL Ranch Lightsey Cove landscape will safeguard critical wildlife habitat and 20,000 feet of shoreline in the northern Everglades.

“If we don’t protect our future with conservation, we won’t have enough natural resources left for our children and grandchildren to enjoy what we all have,” says Cary Lightsey.

He was one of the first ranchers in Florida to use conservation easements. He has hosted events for Conservation Florida on Brahma Island in Osceola County, raising funds and awareness for the organization’s mission while paving the way for the use of conservation easements among Florida ranchers across the state. .

Traci Deen, executive director of Conservation Florida, says the recognition shows the Lightseys are committed to preserving what’s left of Florida’s rapidly declining wild places.

“Cary and Marcia Lightsey’s long-standing commitment to land conservation has been an extraordinary example for all of us,” he says. “Beyond that, they are passionate and persistent about protecting this place we call home. “They bring the agricultural and environmental worlds to the same table, putting all their efforts into conserving Florida.”

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service recently recognized XL Ranch Lightsey Cove as a “great example of conservation management.”

The USDA said the conservation easement on the ranch contributes to the preservation of Highlands County’s historic and cultural ranching heritage. The easement includes 2,000 feet of lake shoreline, an important part of protecting the Everglades ecosystem from Orlando to Florida Bay at the southern tip of Florida.

According to the USDA, Lightsey’s property is located in the Florida Wildlife Corridor: 18 million acres of contiguous wilderness and working lands vital to Florida’s 131 endangered animals. The conservation easement on Lightsey’s property “will provide long-term protection for Florida’s fresh water and preserve native and ranch lands for Florida’s future.”

“Years ago, Marcia and I created (Conservation Legacy Award) with Conservation Florida to raise awareness not only among landowners doing great things, but also to generate more public awareness and celebration of land protection,” Lightsey says .

“Receiving this award was an incredible surprise. “It really means a lot to us and we hope others want to get involved too.”