GAINESVILLE -- A dramatic shift in the demographics of Florida's private forest landowners indicates the traditional farmer may be giving way to the more white-collar, absentee landowner, according to a recent University of Florida survey.
Furthermore, results suggest many of those landowners prefer to use the property for fun instead of farming.
Non-industrial private landowners own more than 50 percent of the forest land in Florida, and the study developed by UF's School of Forest Resources and Conservation was designed to find out who these landowners are, where they live and why they own forest property.
"If I did this survey 20 or 30 years ago, the findings would have been a lot different," said Michael Jacobson, an assistant professor of forestry with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "In the past, more forest landowners were blue-collar workers and farmers who managed their lands primarily for timber production.
"We knew there were absentee landowners, but never realized there would be this many," said Jacobson, who conducted the survey.
The 29-question survey was sent to property owners with more than 20 acres of forest land. Results showed that 64 percent of the 1,017 respondents live away from their forests, and many of those live in cities or towns, using the land for recreation and relaxation.
"Today, they tend to be more educated and wealthier and prefer more environmental attributes of their land such as wildlife and recreation rather than just timber production," he said. "They do not seem to have sentimental attachments to their land and are not as knowledgeable about land management."
Jacobson, who also is an extension forester, said the state and the University of Florida must shift their educational and extension programs to target these new landowners.
"Now we have to learn how to deal with the professional who lives in Miami or Tampa and may not want to touch his or her forest," Jacobson said.