Lafayette Forest - History
Prior to European settlement, the landscape of Florida, including this area of north central Florida, was settled and used by a variety of aboriginal peoples whose culture relied mainly on hunting, fishing and subsistence agriculture. Though some land alteration occurred, only minor alteration of the landscape is thought to have taken place until the advent of European settlement beginning with the Spanish occupation of Florida in the sixteenth century. Along with more advanced agricultural practices, the Spanish and other settlers brought livestock, primarily cattle and hogs, to Florida. This began an era of broad use of the landscape for agriculture.
Rangeland cattle grazing and other agricultural practices began to be utilized in a more systematic way and occurred through much of Florida throughout most of the European settlement era from the sixteenth through the twentieth century. Use of these agricultural practices began an era of increased alteration of the natural landscape. However, it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth century that major settlement and more extensive alteration of the landscape in the area began with the widespread use of agriculture and associated development.
During the past fifty years, the site of the Lafayette Forest WEA has been used for timber production (silviculture) and hunting. The Hatchbend Hunt Club leased the area from 1980 to 2006. The Frazier Cemetery, located in the southeastern part of the WEA, dates back to the late nineteenth century. Fort Downing, a Second Seminole War fort, may have been located on or near Lafayette Forest.
The WEA was established in 2008 as a gopher tortoise mitigation park 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.