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A shining example

Sam Shine’s 6,200-acre donation to a Florida wildlife refuge is just the latest in a life dedicated to conservation

Atlanta, Georgia — Sam Shine, for years, quietly bought up North Florida property and set about conserving it. A successful Midwestern manufacturer, Shine made a number of under-the-radar land deals that received little notice outside the Panhandle conservation community.

Until now.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just received 6,200 acres of ecologically critical pine lands and headwaters adjoining the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Shine is donating the land to the Service — a gift — not merely selling of a chunk at a good price or establishing a conservation easement.

A map showing the national and state forests and wildlife management areas surrounding St. Marks NWR.
The coastal Big Bend area of North Florida is filled with publicly conserved land. Map by Roy Hewitt, USFWS.

“This is the single most important acquisition I’ve witnessed in my seven-and-a-half years as regional chief, and one of the biggest I’ve seen in 26 years in the Southeast region,” said David Viker who’s in charge of all refuges from North Carolina to Louisiana. “Given the overall size of the acquisition, its contribution to the landscape, help for at-risk species and potential for recreation, the property makes it indeed a crown jewel in our system. Mr. Shine’s generosity is beyond my comprehension.”

Shine, a man of few words who shuns the limelight, downplayed the significance of his philanthropy.

CEO Sam Shine smiles in front of the sign for his company 'samtec'.
Sam Shine.

“I’ve held this ground for 10 years and I was hoping that the Fish and Wildlife Service would buy it all, but obviously it was going to take more than my lifetime, so I decided, ‘Well there’s no point in continuing to pay taxes and insurance and all the things it takes to manage the property, so I’m just going to give it to them,’ ” he said in a phone interview. “So I did.”

But make no mistake: Shine is passionate about saving the world, or at least his little corner of it.

“We’re doing damage to the land and to the planet and it’s important to me to do whatever I can to reverse the damage,” he said.

Saving land for posterity

Shine, 80, grew up on an Indiana farm hunting, fishing and pursuing the usual activities that tie a boy to the land. He graduated from Indiana University in 1955 with a bachelor of science degree in business, majoring in marketing. After military service in Korea, Shine worked for an electronic connector company in New Albany, Indiana.

He, along with wife Betty, founded SAMTEC, Inc. in 1976, renting two rooms behind an insurance agency. He paid himself $100 a week.

Shine targeted companies overlooked by large manufacturers for his connectors and cables. Attention to the customer, learned from his father Ira, transformed SAMTEC into a $713 million (in 2017 revenues) manufacturing juggernaut with 5,000 employees scattered across factories and sales offices in Indiana, Asia, Europe and Latin America. A privately held company with workers given ownership stakes, SAMTEC’s website boasts a lofty 96 percent retention rate for employees.

Sam Shine created an eponymous foundation in 1995 as he turned his attention toward conservation. He largely retired a few years later, turning the corporate helm over to son John. Southern Indiana and northern Florida became his philanthropic focus.

Shine chipped in for the Ohio River Greenway. He donated 40 acres to Purdue University for a research park. He helped purchase 339 acres for a land trust in Bloomington. He donated $1 million to the Louisville botanical gardens.

“In my lifetime I’ve seen the community where I live go from a wonderful place to a developed, not wonderful place,” Shine said. “So I’m just trying to save the pieces I can save for posterity in Indiana and Florida.”

His work in Florida was on a grander scale. He typically, bought up large tracts of pine tree plantations near the Big Bend area, harvested the commercial pine and replanted with longleaf pine. He’d work with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) or other private investors and sell off chunks of the land at reduced prices to the Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or nonprofits.

Shine and M.C. Davis, a more renowned (now deceased) private landowner and conservationist, did several land deals together, including the transfer of 50,000 acres to the Suwannee River Water Management District. Shine helped Davis create the 54,000-acre Nokuse Plantation, a nature preserve near Panama City considered the largest chunk of privately held conservation land in the Southeast.

The Shine foundation also put up money for the ecologically critical Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, a TNC-owned refuge famed for its rare evergreen trees, mountain laurel, Bachman’s sparrows and, now, Eastern indigo snakes.

“Sam has a long history of making good decisions to get these important parcels into protection while the state and federal governments worked out the deals on their end,” said David Printiss, program manager for TNC in North Florida. “He is an incredibly generous philanthropist and needs to get a whole lot of credit for all his work in Florida. I sure wish we had more like him.”

A 100-mile conservation corridor

It was Davis, a former pool and poker hustler turned commodities trader and ardent environmentalist, who turned Shine on to the Flint Rock tract adjoining the St. Marks refuge. Shine and TNC each purchased 10,000 acres of former St. Joe’s paper company pine plantation in 2008.

“We bought it to keep it from being developed and chopped up into hunt camps and ranchettes,” Shine said. “It’s coastal, gulf Florida with all these wonderful river systems. I wanted it to go to Fish and Wildlife, but I didn’t count on it taking 10 years.”

The Service already acquired 2,580 acres, for $6.8 million, from Shine using money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is largely financed by offshore oil and gas leases. An agreement is in place to buy another 331 acres for $500,000.

In January Shine told the Service he wanted to donate the rest of his property — 6,202 acres — which abuts St. Marks to the north. It’s worth about $9 million. The Service and TNC have been managing — thinning and burning the slash pine forests and replanting in longleaf — the land for years.

A forest of mature longleaf pine trees with limited understory vegetation.
Longleaf pine habitat in Eastern Florida at Camp Blanding. Photo by Leo Miranda, USFWS.

“It rarely happens that we get large tracts of land, especially land that’s already started to be restored,” said Dan Frisk, project leader for St. Marks and other North Florida refuges. “And, since it joins our property, we now own all the land from the gulf up to the coastal highway. So that’s pretty cool.”

St. Marks now encompasses more than 80,000 acres. The Shine property lets the refuge connect with TNC land (which the Service hopes to buy next), which connects to the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area. Three WMAs, one national forest, one state forest and the refuge translates into a near-seamless 100-mile long conservation corridor along the Gulf Coast.

“As the climate changes and the Gulf of Mexico creeps further and further in, this property is going to be ground zero [for] habitat adaptation and management of certain species, in particular the flatwoods salamander,” said TNC’s Printiss. “We’ve got to provide a place further inland for those species to go.”

A black and white salamander crawls across a bed of pine straw.
Reticulated flatwoods salamander. Photo by Amy Lorenz, CC-BY-NC 2.0.

The conservation benefits are manifold. It’s key habitat for endangered frosted flatwoods salamanders and threatened red-cockaded woodpeckers. Once-decimated populations of Florida black bears may thrive along the corridor. Waterfowl and neotropical birds will have more room to roam.

“Eastern indigo snakes are in my long-range plans,” said Terry Peacock, the St. Marks refuge manager. “Shine’s property, though, is also a critically important watershed. All the water in the refuge comes down through his property. So our vision is to restore the hydrology and restore a lot of the longleaf pine.”

A deep black snake coiled up on sandy soil with young longleaf pine seedlings in the background.
An Eastern indigo snake on sandy soil associated with the longleaf pine ecosystem. Photo © Houston Chandler, the Orianne Society (Used with permission).

Shine leased the property to the state for hunting. Hunting, fishing, biking, hiking and wildlife viewing will be encouraged by the Service. Peacock hopes to stay true to Shine’s long-range ecological vision.

“I’d like to take the whole Southeast — the whole country — and put it back to the way it was in pre-white man days,” Shine said. “It was a wonderful country then and we crapped it up over the centuries. I’m doing my part. And that’s all I can do.”

A man puttying the inside of a cavity in a pine tree.
Red-cockaded woodpecker in flight. Photo by Martjan Lammertink, U.S. Forest Service.

Contact

Dan Chapman, Public Affairs Specialist
daniel_chapman@fws.gov, (404) 679-4028

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