MILTON — A new forest conservation project is in place in the Florida Panhandle.

Several organizations recently gathered at the Pace Community Center and announced a protective easement for 3,719 acres in what is considered the first phase of the Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest Project.

The celebration hosted more than 30 project partners and highlighted the public private collaboration that made the project possible.

The conservation easement was placed on the Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest protecting it from development and requiring restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem.

The easement will restore the important habitat and protect the water quality and quantity in the Gulf of Mexico. It will also allow the land to remain a sustainable working forest that supports the economy.

"By showing it works here, it can work in other areas," Congressman Matt Gaetz said during his remarks.

The Coastal Headwaters project is the largest single longleaf restoration effort on private land to date, with the potential to protect up to 200,000 acres in Florida and Alabama.

The longleaf pine forest once stretched across 90 million acres in the Southeast, but due to deforestation, just 4.7 percent of the original forest remains. As part of America's Longleaf Restoration Initiative — a collaborative, public private effort to restore the longleaf pine ecosystem across eight million acres by 2025 — The Conservation Fund and Resource Management Services are leading an initiative to establish the first, landscape-scale model for restoring and conserving longleaf habitation on privately owned land.

The 3,719-acre property, located in the Florida panhandle, is the first to be considered as part of a landscape of up to 200,000 acres known as the Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest.

"The longleaf pine is part of the South's heritage. It was the tree species upon which our forest-products industry was built and it has helped anchor our regional identity and outdoor couture for Generations," Said Jimmy Bullock, Senior Vice President of Forest Sustainability at Resource Management Services.

The habitat will also provide for imperiled species such as the gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake, the Bachman's sparrow, the swallow-tailed kite, the Florida flame azalea and the white-topped pitcher plant.