As a result, Florida’s Big Bend region, one of the wildest areas of the state, is at risk of losing the rich natural resources on which its local communities and wildlife depend. For more than a dozen years, the Fund has been working to protect land within the watershed of the Suwannee River, in particular along its lower reaches near the Gulf of Mexico.

Our Efforts

In 2001, in partnership with the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) and the landowner at that time, the Fund facilitated a conservation easement on a 32,000-acre working forest around California Lake in Dixie County. Due to that effort, the good relationship the SRWMD continued to build with the community, and the top notch local forestry staff, today there is strong local support for working forest conservation easements.

Based on the success at California Lake, the Fund’s Florida team and our Working Forest Fund program were given an opportunity to do it again on more than 46,500 acres adjacent to the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area. In 2013, Lyme Timber Company purchased the Cross City property and is working with the Fund to pursue the sale of a conservation easement that will preserve it as a working forest in perpetuity. As with the California Lake easement, it will ensure that the forested wetlands onsite, which comprise approximately half the property, will be protected from human disturbance. If successful, this conservation effort will create a contiguous protected area totaling approximately 196,000 acres.

Why This Project Matters

The California Lake easement has become a model for future forestland conservation. The easement is widely recognized as helping preserve the community’s way of life by keeping forests in production and on the tax rolls, protecting water quality/quantity, buffering existing conservation lands and maintaining the strong local hunt club tradition.

The Cross City property protects habitat for Florida black bear, Swallow‐tailed kite, Gulf sturgeon, and a multitude of other fish and bird species. It also serves as an important buffer to the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve, the second largest aquatic preserve in the U.S. Its extensive seagrass beds, oyster bars and salt marshes are a critical nursery and foraging area for an abundance of finfish, shellfish, sea turtles, manatee, dolphin and birds.

The timber industry is the county’s largest employer, with the Suwannee Lumber Mill having an annual local payroll of more than $7 million. This project will ensure important forestry jobs stay in the community. It will also enhance ecotourism in the region by protecting the waters in which residents and visitors swim, fish, scallop, farm clams, oyster and boat.