Why we love district lands

Heather Venter

Land manager is a steward of lands for future generations

Marston Holbrook and Heather Venter loading a hopper

Marston Holbrook and Heather Venter load native grass seeds into a spreader behind a tractor to plant at Bayard Conservation Area.

Heather Venter says her mother ought to be nominated for sainthood for not cracking when Venter transformed the guest bathroom and backyard into a rehabilitation center for 41 juvenile opossums when Venter was in high school.

“One day I realized that helping the individual is great for that one creature, but it would be so much more impactful if I did something that would preserve the habitat so the wildlife wouldn’t need rehabilitators,” says Venter, a St. Johns River Water Management District land manager responsible for managing 40,000 acres of land in the district’s northern region. “That’s how I ended up at University of Georgia to become a wildlife biologist. It all started with a bunch of orphan marsupials.”

Venter, who joined the district in 2010, has also worked as a biologist for the Jacksonville district of the Florida Forest Service. It was during her Forest Service stint while working alongside former district Land Manager Matthew Corby — “one of the smartest folks I ever met” —  that she applied for a job at the district.

“Every day is different,” she says. “Every Monday morning, I create a plan for what the north region staff will do that week and typically by noon on Monday that plan has already changed three times. Every day is an adventure. One day I may be hiking through the woods scouting an area I am hoping to do a prescribed burn on, making sure the soil moisture is just right and the firelines are in good condition; the next day I may be lighting a fire out of the side of a helicopter.”

Venter says it is a privilege to nurture a disturbed or unmanaged property toward something close to its natural state.

“My grandfather told me when I was a little kid — and I can remember it like it was yesterday — ‘God isn’t making any more land, so we better take care of what we’ve got,’” Venter recalls. “Those words of wisdom must have really sunk in; even years after he had passed away, I chose a career that would allow me to help preserve the public’s land. To me this land isn’t just my office, it is a gift given to us by previous generations of Floridians and it is a resource on loan to us from future generations. My mission is to be a steward of these land and natural resources for future generations and help to tell the land’s story so everyone can develop the same love for this ground that I do.”

Bluff overlooking Black Creek at Black Creek Ravines Conservation Area
Sandy trail at Black Creek Ravines Conservation Area

The Black Creek Ravines Conservation Area is among the areas managed by the district’s Heather Venter.