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Marion County Land Owner And Conservationist Practices ‘Agriculture At Its Finest’

This is a section of Baldwin's slash pine forest restoration project.
This is a section of Baldwin's slash pine forest restoration project.

Afternoons at Crones’ Cradle Conserve Foundation in Citra are busy for Co-Owner and Manager Jeri Baldwin.

Born and raised in Marion County, she saw large expansions in land development during the 1980s and felt compelled to buy some land to conserve.

After talking with a friend, they decided a hundred acres of undeveloped land would be perfect to conserve. Baldwin said finding undeveloped land even back then was a difficult search because there was not a lot of land in Marion County left undeveloped.

“I think if I had not been a native here and knew practically everybody, it would have been a lot harder,” Baldwin said, referring to the local response to her land conservation project.

Her search ended when she found the 80 acres where Crones’ Cradle Conserve now sits. Then, some nearby timberland was put up for sale because the new equipment the timber company used did not pay for itself on a piece of land smaller than 400 acres.

Baldwin and her friend agreed this land would be a good addition to their conserve. “Struggled, and got busy, and found the money to pay for it, so we had a lot more land than we meant to have, but at least we’ve kept it from being developed.”

According to 2010 Florida Forest Service statistics, about 16 million of Florida’s acres are timberland. Baldwin said acquiring 80 of those acres gave her the opportunity to begin a major forest restoration project. The project includes restoration of a former slash pine plantation to native yellow pine forest.

That work is ongoing.

“We’ve still got a little bit of planted pine to timber out, and some maybe, oh, 10 or 12,000 yellow pine seedlings to get planted,” Baldwin said. “The forest restoration has been a lot of fun, and I’m not going to see the end of it, but it’s certainly been fun to see a lot of it get started over the last four years.”

Meanwhile, Jib Davidson sees the business benefits of timber production. He is a local forester and co-owner of Columbia Timber & Environmental Services and United Country Land & Lifestyle Properties. Part of his business focuses on the timberland real estate market.

“We have a lot of competition, there’s a lot of land in Alachua County, a lot of land in Northeast Florida,” said Davidson, referring to the hundreds of other timber companies in the area. “There’s of course plenty of business to go around. It’s a huge industry.”

Timber is grown similar to crops, from the way it’s planted in rows, fertilized, cared for, and harvested.

“This is agriculture, this is agriculture…at its finest, I guess you might say,” Davidson said.

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