Local Audubon Society chapter accused of trying to develop wildlife preserve

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A local chapter of the Audubon Society is accused in court of trying to sell off a property for development that was expected to forever be preserved for wildlife.

The man who donated the six acres says it was given to the Oklawaha Valley Audubon Society with the understanding it would never be touched. 9 Investigates visited the property and went through the court filing to find out why the conservation nonprofit would want to do this in the first place.


Right off Old Highway 441, just across the Lake County line into Orange County, a sign marks the spot where Ken Rubinson’s family acreage was designated as a wildlife preserve.

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“It had been in the family since the 1930s, and I had visited it when I was a young boy,” Rubinson said.  “When it came time and I decided to sell the main part of the property, there was no way I was going to not preserve that.”

Court records claim that in December 2007, Rubinson executed a conservation easement with the St. Johns River Water Management District to require the property stay in its existing natural condition. A few weeks later, he donated the property to the Oklawaha Valley Audubon Society.

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Though Rubinson never got a written agreement from that chapter of the Audubon Society that the land would stay wild, the lawsuit goes on to state that years later in 2019, the society’s own board requested the SJRWMD release the easement so that the property could be sold to a developer.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, attorneys for the nonprofit say Rubinson is attempting to ‘bully, dictate, and control” the governance and business decisions of the group in perpetuity.

The record goes on to state that the board of directors of a nonprofit corporation have the responsibility to determine what’s in the best interest of the corporation going forward, and should not be bound by the intent of donors who gave many years ago.

Our emails and calls to attorneys representing the Oklawaha Valley Audubon Society have not yet been returned.

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.