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Landowners pull 26,400 acres from WMA system

North Florida hunters will lose more than 26,400 acres of public hunting land this year, as a pair of land/timber companies have pulled their properties out of the state’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) for financial reasons.

Robert Brent WMA (an 8,532-acre tract located in Gadsden and Liberty counties) and San Pedro Bay WMA (consisting of 17,872 acres in Taylor and Madison counties) will no longer offer public hunting when the current spring turkey season ends.

The owners are expected to make the land available for hunting through private leases. Both Robert Brent WMA (owned by St. Joe Corp., formerly St. Joe Timber) and San Pedro Bay WMA (owned by Foley Timber and Land Company) have been managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) through cooperative agreements with the land-owners

Hunters participating in the Recreational User Permit programs on both WMAs were notified of the change in a March 15 letter from FWC’s Division of Hunting and Game Management Director Diane Eggeman.

These WMAs are just two of several privately-owned areas across the state enrolled in the Recreational User Permit (or User Pay) program offering public hunting in partnership with private landowners.

Fees from each permit sold – $150 for Robert Brent WMA and $225 for San Pedro Bay – (minus $25 kept by the FWC) is passed along to the landowner to support the continued use of these lands for public hunting.

Foley Timber and Land stated the move was a “business decision” and St. Joe Timber said “current conditions dictate we move in other directions.” In a Jan. 22 letter to the FWC, Foley Timber and Land Company Woodlands Manager Travis McCoy notified FWC of the company’s intent to terminate the agreement and remove San Pedro Bay from the WMA system, effective July 1, 2009.

The termination includes all 17,872 acres of Foley land being managed by the FWC for hunting. “Foley wishes to express its appreciation of the FWC for our long-standing, cooperative relationship. The cancellation of this agreement is based on a business decision and in no way reflects our relationship with the Commission, “ McCoy wrote.

St. Joe did the same in a Feb. 6 letter from Vice President David Harrelson, stating, “We have enjoyed our working relationship with the commission over the years, but current conditions dictate we move in other directions.”

The agreement for all 8,532 acres in Robert Brent WMA will be terminated effective April 26, 2009. St. Joe originally intended to terminate the agreement on April 6, but later agreed to extend the date to accommodate the current spring turkey season.

According to the FWC, all recreational use permit holders must remove any tree stands or other personal property from Robert Brent WMA property by April 27 and by June 30 on San Pedro Bay WMA land.

Former permit holders are asked to visit the FWC website (MyFWC.com) for information on other public hunting opportunities. Those with questions can call the Northwest Regional office (850) 265-3676 or FWC’s North Central Regional office at (386) 758-0525.

St. Joe is one of the largest landowners in Florida. The real estate/land development company owns about 600,000 acres, most of which is located in the Florida Panhandle. St. Joe plans to make the Robert Brent area available for hunting next season through its private hunting-lease program.

At one time St. Joe Timberland company leased over 225,000 acres of hunting land to the FWC for use in the WMA system. Since that time, much of those lands have been converted to private leases or sold to the state.

Foley Timber and Land is also one of the largest landowners in the state, managing around 560,000 acres of timberland through a number of public/private partnerships. Foley has also pulled all of its land out of public WMAs.

The FWC manages a total of about 4.4 million acres (called “Cooperative Areas”) through partnerships with other private or governmental landowners.