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Bell Ridge Longleaf - History

Gopher Tortoise close up

Historical development associated with the early settlement of the Bell Ridge Longleaf WEA is similar to other early settlements in north-central Florida. Exploitation of timber resources and agricultural development were the main factors that opened the area to settlers.

Little intensive previous use of the area is apparent. Historically and presently, adjacent and nearby properties are either forested or in agricultural use. There are some indications that there may have been periodic timber harvest, or clearing of the area, associated with agricultural and other rural uses many decades ago. Past turpentining and livestock grazing also may have occurred. By 1970, the area was apparently natural, second-growth sandhill with adjoining properties already in agricultural use or undeveloped.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) acquired the Bell Ridge Longleaf WEA, previously known as the Davidson Ranch, in 1991 and managed it as a nature preserve. The Board of Trustees acquired the area from TNC in July of 2008 through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Mitigation Park Program. The now-defunct Mitigation Park Program was established in 1998 as an off-site alternative to on-site protection for rare species impacted by development. When developers eliminated habitat for an endangered or threatened species, they paid fees that were used to buy and manage high quality habitat elsewhere. The primary purpose of this acquisition was to help to ensure the survival of wildlife such as the gopher tortoise and other associated wildlife.