ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 12, 2019 — The St. Johns River Water Management District and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are partnering to open Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area in Marion County as a Public Small-Game Hunting Area this year, with the intent to convert it to a Wildlife Management Area in the future. More than 65 percent of the district’s conservation lands are open to hunting.
“We are very excited about expanding the recreational offerings at Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area to include hunting,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “The district has enjoyed a long partnership with FWC in creating wildlife management and public small-game hunting areas on district conservation lands. Our partnership provides the public with expanded opportunities to hunt on public conservation lands.”
The district’s Governing Board on Tuesday was briefed on an amendment to the cooperative agreement between the district and FWC pertaining to Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and Public Small-Game Hunting Areas (PSGHAs) on district conservation lands. The amendment would allow for hunting at Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area.
Hunting is allowed on district lands that are within WMAs, PSGHAs and federal National Wildlife Refuges. Hunting in these areas is regulated by the district, FWC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area, formerly owned by Rayonier Inc., has a long history of hunting. District staff approached FWC staff with the idea of allowing public hunting on the tract, and FWC has worked with district staff to create seasons, rules and maps.
“We’re grateful for the district’s willingness to expand recreational opportunities at Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area,” said Eric Sutton, FWC’s executive director. “They are a longstanding and valued partner who understands providing the public with a range of recreational opportunities, including hunting, is important for meeting the growing demand for outdoor activities within the state’s public lands system.”
The 4,900-acre property was jointly purchased in 2015 by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program and the Conservation Trust for Florida, primarily to protect water quality and recharge in relation to Halfmile Creek, Silver Springs, the Silver River and the Ocklawaha River.
The district buys land in the course of its work to protect and preserve water resources and owns or manages approximately 737,500 acres of land throughout its 18-county service area. These lands protect plant and wildlife habitat and provide areas for public recreation and environmental education. Much of this land is open to the public for activities that are compatible with conservation.
For information about district lands and partnership properties that allow hunting, visit the district online at www.sjrwmd.com/documents/hunting.