Lightseys Receive Conservation Legacy Award

by PAUL CATALA

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

Conservation Florida, an Orlando-based nonprofit working to protect Florida’s natural and agricultural landscapes, recently bestowed the Lake Wales couple with the Conservation Legacy Award for their commitment to conserving wild Florida and their dedication to Conservation Florida. 

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

A sixth-generation Florida rancher, Lightsey began partnering with Conservation Florida in 2020 and since that time has worked to protect critically endangered natural lands within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, including XL Ranch Lightsey Cove, a 527-acre ranch within Florida Wildlife Corridor. The landscape of XL Ranch Lightsey Cove 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 Florida ranchers 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 also making way for conservation easement use among Florida ranchers across the state. 

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

“Cary and Marcia Lightsey’s long-standing commitment to land conservation has set an extraordinary example to us all,” she 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, pulling all hands on-deck to conserve Florida.”

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

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

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

“Years ago, Marcia and I created [Conservation Legacy Award] with Conservation Florida to bring awareness to not only landowners doing great things but to bring more public awareness and celebration to land protection,” Lightsey says. 

“Receiving this award was an unbelievable surprise. It really does mean a lot to us, and we hope that others want to get involved, too.”

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