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The Work Behind the Scenes to Protect Polk County’s Natural Assets

Polk County Technical Assessment Group (TAG) posing for photo on trail with trucksMembers of Polk County’s Technical Assessment Group (TAG) recently spent about 12 hours trekking through thousands of acres of land in Lake Wales, Fort Meade and Poinciana. They were exploring properties that Polk County could potentially acquire through the Environmental Lands Program, so they climbed hills, bushwacked on overgrown trails, examined plants and bugs, and took notes and photos.

How does the acquisition process work?
If a landowner expresses an interest in negotiating with Polk County and TAG deems the land a good fit, there are two acquisition options. Both of the following scenarios depend on the seller’s desires:

1. Polk County could pursue an outright purchase.
2. Polk County could buy a conservation easement, allowing the owner to continue using the land but restricting any intense, future development.

What is the Technical Assessment Group?
TAG is made up of volunteers with wildlife, water resources, natural communities, plant identification and forestry backgrounds. As a group of technical experts, TAG’s members rate properties on water resources, natural communities and landscape, plants and animals, human value and management potential.

Polk County Technical Assessment Group Members reading documents in camping chairsHow are properties rated, and what happens next?
For example, they count the number of bird species at each site, they look for invasive plants and they consider how the land fits into the wildlife corridor.

At the end of the day, each TAG member grades the land according to very specific guidelines. Polk County’s Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee then reviews the findings and makes a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners. The Board decides whether or not to pursue acquisition.

Where does the money for acquisitions come from?
Polk County voters approved a ballot referendum in 2022 that created a property tax to fund land conservation for 20 years.

A similar program, which concluded in 2015, led to the acquisition of the Circle B Bar Reserve. Formerly a cattle ranch, the county and the Southwest Florida Water Management District purchased and restored its wetlands. It is now a world-renowned bird-watching site.

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