30 Year Anniversary of the Green Swamp Land Authority

May 01, 2024   |   Conservation Easements

30 years ago, the state of Florida made an effort to conserve and protect our state's green infrastructure. The Green Swamp Land Authority paved the way for conservation easements, allowing farmers, ranchers, and landowners to preserve their land for generations.

The Inception

After witnessing one of the major freezes that decimated Florida’s orange groves in the 1980s, Dean Saunders grew concerned about the potential development of these devastated farmlands. This concern would spark Dean's interest in innovative land conservation strategies that culminated during his tenure as a state legislator. Inspired by examples from other states, Dean proposed the novel concept of purchasing development rights from landowners. This approach aimed to preserve land in its natural state while still allowing owners to retain ownership and receive compensation for forfeiting their development rights. Over time, Dean's pioneering efforts would pave the way for the expansion of comprehensive conservation programs throughout Florida.

About the Green Swamp Land Authority

The Green Swamp Land Authority represents a pioneering initiative in Florida's environmental conservation history. The pilot program was established to determine whether the concept of purchasing development rights would be accepted by landowners and adopted by government agencies. As a result, the Green Swamp Land Authority became the first state entity to purchase development rights from landowners, ensuring that the lands within the Green Swamp remain undeveloped indefinitely. Spanning 322,690 acres in Central Florida, the Green Swamp was identified by the state as an Area of Critical State Concern.

The implementation of purchasing development rights marked a significant shift in how natural lands were conserved in Florida, eventually evolving into the modern concept of conservation easements. These tools not only preserve the ecological value of Florida land but also respect the economic interests of landowners, providing them with viable options to retain their property without succumbing to development pressures.

Learn More About Conservation Easements

Dean's Conservation Career

Following the Green Swamp Land Authority, Dean has continued his work to conserve Florida’s green infrastructure through the use of conservation easements, preserving more than 275,000 acres over the last 30 years. In one of his previous years, he conserved a total of over 30,000 acres across the state of Florida. This achievement included a notable transaction in Osceola County, where he facilitated the $12.7 million acquisition of 4,317 acres of diverse ecosystems. Among Dean’s other significant projects is the Bluffs of St. Teresa—a vast 17,000-acre tract along the Gulf of Mexico in North Florida, one of the most extensive remaining tracts of undeveloped land on the Gulf Coast. With these transactions, Dean's commitment to land conservation has preserved numerous crucial habitats for wildlife while maintaining the state's natural beauty for future generations.

30 Years of Conservation

At the annual Florida Lay of the Land Conference, this panel brought together visionary leaders who each played pivotal roles in the adoption and promotion of conservation easements in Florida. Their conversation delves into the origins and evolution of the Green Swamp Land Authority, highlighting its significant impact on Florida’s land preservation efforts over the past three decades.


View past photos from the signing of the Green Swamp Land Authority in May 1994 and present day photos of those that contributed to its creation.

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