GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When veterinarian Bill Bennett first bought his 1,200 acres of land in Levy County, he wasn’t sure what he would do with it. “I didn’t know anything about working the land, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he said.
Bennett heard about the Florida Forest Stewardship program—a collaboration of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and various state agencies—and decided to give organizers a call. Chris Demers, a UF/IFAS Extension program manager who oversees the university’s participation in the program, suggested that Bennett attend workshops to gain knowledge.
“I knew I loved pine trees, but I had absolutely no knowledge of how to go about building a pine tree plantation,” Bennett said. “Everything I know, I learned through the stewardship program or through other participants. It has been invaluable to my success as a landowner.”
The Florida Forest Stewardship program was created in 1990 by the U.S. Forest Service to encourage private landowners to manage their forest resources for multiple benefits, said Demers, who is with the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation. “UF/IFAS’ role is to coordinate educational programming and outreach,” he said.
The first step for participants is to develop a land management plan with the Florida Forest Service, Demers said. Participants need a plan to meet their short- and long-term goals and objectives for their property, he said. The cost of the program and five-year plan are free for landowners with 160 or fewer acres.
Once a participant completes the program, he or she is certified as a Florida Land Steward. “Besides getting a plaque and a sign for their property, they also are eligible for other programs,” Demers said.
The benefits of the program are long term, Demers said. “They get a management plan, which is a roadmap to get where they want to be as far as goals for their property,” he said. “And, they are connected to a vast network of local and statewide forestry and natural resources professionals who can give them technical and cost-share assistance. Plus, they get educational resources from UF/IFAS, at no cost.”
According to Bennett, all landowners should attend the stewardship program. “The program did exactly what it was supposed to do: educate me,” he said. “I recommend the workshops to anybody and everybody who owns land because there is no better resource.”
For more information on the Florida Forest Stewardship program, click here.
Or, view a video here.
By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Chris Demers, 352-846-2375, email@example.com