In 1935, as part of the federal purchasing program for public lands, the Florida Board of Forestry was authorized to manage state forests and parks across Florida. These state forests were the outcome of a federal work program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The mission of the CCC was to put young men to work in conservation jobs during the time of the Great Depression. Purchased in 1936, the first state forest was Pine Log State Forest established in Bay County. Shortly after, Cary State Forest was purchased which spans parts of Nassau and Duval counties. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Blackwater River State Forest in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties and Withlacoochee State Forest in Hernando County were added. These four state forests comprised the Florida state forest system until the late 1970’s.
In the late 1970s, Florida began aggressively purchasing land for future generations from which many state forests were created. The focus on land management shifted from simply management of timber and wildlife resources to a multiple land use management ethic which includes conservation of natural and cultural resources, wildlife management, and protection of water resources while providing opportunities for outdoor recreation to the public.
Since its humble beginnings in 1936 of one state forest with 6,000 acres, Florida ’s state forest system has grown to include 37 State Forests and the management of over one million acres of forest lands.
State Forest Timeline
July 1, 1936 – June 30, 1938
The Fifth Biennial Report of the Florida Forest and Park Service stated, “Those wild lands suitable for timber production and lacking unusual scenic, historical, or botanical qualities, or not highly adaptable to active recreation, are best suited for the practice of forestry.
Briefly, wild land should be devoted to its highest uses. If it is best suited for park purposes it should be developed and used accordingly, provided there is public or social need for such uses in any given area because of the proximity to population centers, tourist traffic, or danger of destruction to unusual botanical, historic, or physiographic features.” This philosophy guided assignment of property to either park or forest management.
Pine Log State Forest was established in Bay and Washington Counties with a total of 6,960 acres.
Cary State Forest was established in Nassau and Duval Counties with a total of 3,413 acres. Cary State Forest was named after Dr. Austin Cary, who is known as the "Father of Forestry" in Florida.
Blackwater River State Forest was established through a cooperative and license agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Florida Board of Forestry. The agreement was for a period of fifty years on 181,822 acres located in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties.
Blackwater River State Forest was deeded by the United States Department of Agriculture to the Florida Board of Forestry.
Withlacoochee State Forest was established through a 25 year lease-purchase agreement from the United State Department of Agriculture. Withlacoochee State Forest consisted of six different tracts of land totaling 157,315 acres located in Citrus, Hernando, Sumter, Pasco, and Lake Counties. Final payment was made in 1982 and the title was transferred to the State of Florida in 1983.
Governmental Reorganization Act of 1969 transferred the programs, activities, functions, and responsibilities of the Board of Forestry to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The functions of the Board were assigned to the Florida Forest Service within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Board of Forestry was renamed to the Forestry Advisory Council and its powers changed from policy making to advisory to the Director of the Florida Forest Service and the Commissioner of Agriculture.
1987 – 2009
The Conservation and Recreation Land (CARL) Trust Fund (established in 1979) and the Florida Preservation 2000 Fund (established in 1990) made possible the purchase of additional public lands. Almost every year during this time period, additional lands were purchased, bringing the number of state forests to 35. Included in these purchases was Florida's State Forests 1 Millionth Acre, part of an additional parcel of land to Cary State Forest, purchased in 2006. These purchases also made over half of Florida's 67 counties have a state forest within them.
The 75th Anniversary of Florida's State Forests. Over one million visitors annually enjoy the space, solitude, and self-reliance of Florida's State Forests through OHV riding, hunting, fishing, camping, paddling, hiking, biking, horseback riding, geocaching, swimming, picnicking, and leisure driving. There are endless educational opportunities for visitors of all ages.