Officials from the University of Florida and The Nature Conservancy met recently to formally celebrate the largest land gift ever donated to the university and the bright future for environmental research and protection.

The Nature Conservancy has transferred the deed for the Carl Swisher Memorial Sanctuary, more than 3,000 acres of pristine Florida forest and wetlands, to the UF Foundation. Monetarily, the land is valued at $11 million. However, paired with the adjacent UF-owned Katharine Ordway Preserve, the land represents a priceless opportunity for preservation and study of Florida’s ecosystem.

“From wetlands to sandhills, the Ordway-Swisher Biological Station spans one of the rarest collections of imperiled land types in the nation — a precious rarity that makes it the perfect laboratory for measuring the effects of environmental change,” UF President Bernie Machen said at the meeting.

The Ordway and Swisher properties have been managed under a joint stewardship between UF and TNC since the early 1980s. In 2006, the collective properties of more than 9,100 acres were officially named the Ordway-Swisher Biological Station.

Now, the formalization of UF ownership will facilitate the development of teaching, research and preservation efforts on the site, said John Hayes, chairman of UF’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“This transfer represents an important step in TNC’s relationship with UF and the Station,” Hayes said. “This paves the way for a number of collaborative projects that build on both UF’s and TNC’s goals, and is an important milestone in the station’s path to becoming a globally significant research and education site.”

For example, by early September, the Station will house three TNC-funded fire experts who will not only provide educational and training programs on prescribed fire and wildfire control, but will also provide on-site assistance for fire management in natural areas throughout north Florida.

The Station has been selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to serve as a candidate core site for monitoring ecological processes and environmental change in the Southeastern United States as part of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

NEON will be the first national interdisciplinary research program to track the status of the natural world. The designation is expected to result in multimillion-dollar infrastructure investment for the Station, followed by at least 30 years of NSF funding.