Environmental Lands Program


  • Debra Woithe, Environmental Lands Program Manager
  • (941) 748-4501 ext. 6052
  • Email Us

The Environmental Lands Program is focused on the conservation of Manatee County’s environmental heritage to benefit today's and future generations. Our staff works with the Environmental Land Management and Acquisition Committee (ELMAC) to advise the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on environmental land acquisition, management, and recreational programming. The BCC decides which properties can be purchased. Only properties whose owners want to have their land considered for purchase are considered.

A grassroots effort, led by individuals and organizations throughout the region, resulted in a successful 2020 Referendum to finance the acquisition, improvement, and management of conservation lands. The Conservation and Parks Projects Referendum calls for a 0.15 mill ad valorem tax and up to $50,000,000 in general obligation bonds. Partnerships with many other organizations result in additional funds and resources that support the success of the program.

Manatee County has sixteen preserves established through a combination of land donations, land purchases, grants from other organizations, and partnerships with Land Trusts.  Habitat restoration, ongoing resource management, and providing access for hiking, biking, running, swimming, paddling, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, camping, and picnics are rewarding challenges for Manatee County staff. Many recreational and outdoor education opportunities are provided.

 Nominate a Property 

Environmental Land Acquisition Process

The land acquisition process is shown in this flow chart

Natural Resource Value Criteria

Four main criteria are used to assess Natural Resource Value.  The criteria were established in the ELMAC Ordinance in 2003 and are fundamental to conservation and preservation programs throughout the Country. 

  • Ecological Quality – quality of species or habitat, degree of alteration or degradation, level of restoration required
  • Rarity of Species or Habitat – uniqueness, number of threatened, endangered or species of special concern supported
  • Importance to Water Resources – protection of or degradation to portable water supply or aquatic environment
  • Connectivity – proximity to existing conservation lands or planned corridor, size of connection.

While the Natural Resource Value criteria above address the purpose of the Referendum, these specific elements are evaluated to determine how well sites meet the purpose of the Referendum.

  • Drinking Water Protection   
  • Water Quality Protection       
  • Prevention of Stormwater Runoff Pollution          
  • Preservation of Fish Habitat                 
  • Preservation of Wildlife Habitat
  • Provision of Parks

Conservation Easements

The program provides for both fee simple and conservation easement acquisition. A fee simple purchase transfers full ownership of the property to another party. A conservation easement, also known as “less-than-fee” purchase, acquires only the property rights needed for the conservation goal (i.e., development and land use conversion rights).  More on conservation easements and their benefits can be found at this link.

ELMAC ordinance considerations specific to agricultural easements include:

  • Land quality for agricultural use - prime, unique, local or state-wide importance
  • Economic viability – size, on-site farm infrastructure, proximity to off-site farm infrastructure, such as markets
  • Compatibility of surrounding uses
  • Degree of development pressure - proximity to the urban service boundary, zoning, residential development
  • Proximity to other protected agricultural, environmental lands or wildlife corridors/greenways
  • Enhancement or preservation of wildlife habitat, air and water quality, hydrology, ground water recharge, scenic, historic, and other cultural features

Implementation of the Conservation and Parks Projects Referendum

A grassroots effort, led by individuals and organization throughout the region, resulted in a successful 2020 Referendum to finance the acquisition, improvement, and management of conservation lands.  The Conservation and Parks Projects Referendum calls for a 0.15 mill ad valorem tax and up to $50,000,000 in general obligation bonds.  While the referendum provides a dedicated funding source, partnerships with other organizations result in additional funds and resources that support the success of the program.

Nominate Property for Conservation Acquisition

Anyone can nominate a property for conservation acquisition using this form.  Keep in mind that the property owner(s) must be willing to have their property be considered by Manatee County for conservation acquisition for further consideration by ELMAC or the BCC.

If you need assistance with the application, call or email Debra Woithe at (941) 742-5923 ext. 6052,  [email protected].  

View Candidate Properties for Conservation Acquisition

This Dashboard was created to allow ELMAC members, the BCC and others to investigate candidate properties for conservation acquisition prior to making recommendations or decisions for acquisition. Note that only nominated properties with owners interested in selling are included. If a property is recommended by ELMAC and approved for acquisition by BCC, then due diligence process and purchase negotiations can begin. 

The dashboard characterizes the natural resources of the properties, how well they meet the intent of the Conservation and Parks Projects Referendum, and provides key information further described in these web pages.  If you need more information, please contact email the Environmental Lands Program.

View Candidate Property Dashboard

We look forward to sharing information about newly acquired conservation lands in future.

Accountability and Oversight

An annual report will provide for accountability and oversight measures using performance measures and financial reporting.  This web page will include periodic updates with news and dashboard indicators.

Performance Measures

  • Acreage of habitats acquired (fee simple and easements)
  • Acres of habitat meeting referendum goals (water quality, habitat, stormwater, parks)
  • Selection criteria rating for parcels acquired

Financial Reporting

  • Expenditures for acquisition, improvement and management of land, indebtedness
  • Millage Fund Balances/funds made available by County
  • Funds provide by other organizations
  • Expenditures unrelated to Referendum purpose

Tree City/County USA Program

1,169,446 Trees Planted by Manatee County Since 1988

Tress planted in Manatee County

Manatee County has conducted ongoing conservation plantings since 1988 and has been a part of the Tree City/County USA Program since 2009. A thriving urban forest offers many advantages to communities. Here are just a few benefits identified by the Arbor Day Foundation:

  • Trees absorb the sounds of traffic in urban areas by 40%.
  • Neighborhoods with trees are 7 to 9 degrees cooler than those without.
  • Trees reduce energy costs up to 25% by shading buildings and protecting them from winter winds.
  • Homes with trees have higher property values.
  • Green space plays a major role in improving mental and physical health.
  • Trees absorbs carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, mitigating the effects of climate change.

tree icon14,375tree icon

Trees Planted by Manatee County in Fiscal Year 2021

More information about the Environmental Lands Management and Acquisition Committee (ELMAC) is available on the Advisory Boards web pageThe ELMAC Ordinance was last updated January 25, 2022, and full details can be found in Municode.