Florida Land Steward - Another Web-based Model for Landowner Outreach

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:02/07/2012

Well, what do you know!  Government conservation programs in Florida are now collaborating to create a one-stop-shop website for private landowners with the goal of improving private land stewardship!  While the Private Landowner Network may not have been their sole inspiration, we’d like to preen a little bit and say imitation (even if unintentional) is the sincerest form of flattery.

In 2011, the Florida Forest Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the University of Florida established a partnership at the prodding of a state Fish and Wildlife Commissioner who asked “How can state and federal agencies with overlapping programs work better together?”  The answer was to create The Florida Land Steward Partnership.  In 2012, they founded flsteward.org as a portal to the private lands stewardship information spread among many different agencies and nonprofits.

“Our goal,” Chris Demers told me recently, “is to promote land stewardship on private lands in Florida, increase cooperation between natural resource agencies and organizations, and secure public support for private lands stewardship and natural resource management.  We feature information for everyone in all parts of Florida that will help them to achieve long-term environmental, social, and economic benefits from their land.”

Chris Demers is Forest Stewardship Coordinator at the University of Florida with a background in forestry who manages the site alongside Dr. Emma Willcox, a Wildlife Extension Faculty at the University of Florida.  They are guided in their efforts by a committee of partner agency representatives who help provide the pages, contacts, and many resources that fit into the site’s categories of private land information.  

An Expanding Source of Information for Private Landowners

Though they currently have five official collaborating partners, Chris has plans to expand significantly in the coming years.  “We want to get the Florida Forestry Association, the Farm Bureau and the Fish and Wildlife Service on board.   The University of Florida has been partnering for many years with the Florida Forest Service (formerly the Florida Division of Forestry), but this new partnership is more expansive.”

The site is constantly expanding, and currently lists three main categories of information:

  • planning for the future of your land,
  • knowing your land,
  • protecting your land.

Each section links to diverse and detailed sources of stewardship information available through various agencies:  from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Landowner Assistance Program to Ties to the Land (also a PLN partner) to an atlas of vascular plants to property tax exceptions under Florida Real Estate Law.  (I’d like pause here and say thank you to Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation for linking to PLN and our Florida consultants listing under their Landowner Assistance Program.)

An entire section on “Working Your Land” is slated to be added in 2012 and will feature information on land based enterprises such as timber, ecotourism, and small farm enterprises.  Chris’s goal for the year is to “have us well-linked to most of the organizations that deal with private lands in Florida.  We also want to link to national groups like yours and the National Woodland Owners Association, the Forest Landowners Association, Florida Tree Farm, Forest Stewardship Council, etc.”  Funding for their newsletter, the Florida Land Steward comes from a Forest Stewardship Program grant from the Florida Forest Service and a grant from the Florida Sustainable Forestry Initiative Implementation Committee.  It is currently mailed to 4580 landowners and resource professionals and delivered via the web to another approximately 1,500 landowners and professionals, and the list of people receiving the newsletter is constantly expanding.

A Conduit for Small Farms and Streamlined Planning

“We are also kind of becoming a conduit in the state for small farms,” continues Chris.  “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the counties, but they are not in touch with each other.  I’m connected to a lot of the county agents, and they let me know about events, as do small organic farmers that give independent farm tours.  I send out a calendar update once a week, and it seems more and more of my time is spent populating this calendar!”

The planning end of the Partnership is working toward a more collaborative management planning process for landowners.  Partners are developing a  management plan process which meets the needs of landowners primarily, but also satisfies the administrative and cost-share requirements of the Florida Forest Service’s Forest Stewardship Program, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  

Finding Landowners Where They Work

The Florida Land Steward program is not stopping there either.  Chris realizes the difficulty of reaching private landowners simply by offering information through the web.  He has ambitions of finding absentee landowners where they work by reaching out to professional societies - such as lawyer and medical groups - as well as more traditional landowning constituencies like hunting and fishing groups.

Florida is embracing the new era of slimmed down government programs through creative collaboration.  The Florida Land Steward Partnership is actively searching for partners and program information.  Anyone who can help is encouraged to contact Chris or Emma at cdemers@ufl.edu or ewillcox@ufl.edu.