Gene Lollis, Ranch Manager, and Hilary Swain, Archbold's Executive Director, receive Environmental Stewardship Award from FCA's President, Hal Phillips, on 22 June 2006 at the FCA's annual meeting on Marco island, Florida.
Buck Island Ranch, 10,500-acres ranch with 3,000 head of cattle, and lying in south-eastern Highlands County, Florida received the Florida Cattlemen’s Association’s (FCA) Environmental Stewardship Award. The FCA presents this award annually to an outstanding commercial cattle ranch that supports native habitats and wildlife, operates in a manner that is environmentally sustainable, and is a conservation leader in the cattle industry. In the last two years the winners of the state Award (Williamson Cattle Company and the Lightsey Cattle Company) have gone on to be national Environmental Stewardship Award winners at the National Cattlemen’s and Beef Association meetings. Buck Island Ranch is representative of the vast low lying pastures, wet prairies and oak and cabbage palm hammocks that make up the Indian Prairie, a huge swath of ranchland that runs from Lake Istokpoga down to Lake Okeechobee. The ranch is owned by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago. It was the private cattle ranch of John MacArthur, the wealthy insurance magnate, who left his personal fortune to establish the foundation in his name. The MacArthur Foundation has leased the ranch to Archbold Biological Station to operate as a working cattle ranch and provide the land and infrastructure to conduct long-term ecological research on the interactions between cattle ranching operations and the native species, habitats and ecosystems of South Florida. The research division at Buck Island Ranch is called the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center.
The award was not made to honor the successful research programs conducted on Buck Island Ranch, but rather to recognize the day to day ranch operations that contribute towards long-term environmental sustainability. “Buck Island Ranch is like many other wonderful Florida ranches; they take care of the environment, and maintain wildlife habitat, while working to remain economically viable as a commercial cattle operation. The unique working relationship the ranch has with the Archbold Biological Station allows them to have on-going studies to measure the environmental impact of the ranching enterprise, which benefits the entire industry. We are proud to name Buck Island Ranch our 2006 Environmental Stewardship Award winner; they are well deserving of this award.” Jim Handley, Executive Vice President, Florida Cattlemen’s Association.
The ranch has avoided intensifying remaining native pastures and wetlands, concentrating instead on enhancing efficiency on improved pastures and incorporating new cattle management practices. It has maintained habitat for four federally listed threatened and endangered species including Florida Caracara, Wood Storks, Indigo Snakes, and 12 state listed species such as Black Bear and Burrowing Owls. About 15% of the Ranch is wetlands and 737 acres of these wetland have been set aside acres in a conservation easement under the US Department of Agriculture Wetland Restoration Program, in conjunction with the MacArthur Foundation.
The Ranch was recognized for working hard to improve water quality coming off the property. At Buck Island Ranch they are trying a host of innovative approaches, including holding back more water in ranch ditches, reducing outflows at the structures that go into the Harney Pond Canal, and reducing inputs of fertilizer to the extent practicable.
Gene Lollis, Ranch Manager, was truly surprised when the “Buck Island Ranch” name was called out at the Annual Cattlemen’s Convention at Marco Island on June 22nd. “We appreciate that others recognize this is what our ranch is all about; striving to understand the interactions between our ranching operations and our natural surroundings”.
Hilary Swain, Executive Director at Archbold, said the organization is deeply appreciative of the award; “running a large cattle ranch in Florida, while maintaining both economic and ecological viability, is a significant challenge. We thank all the Florida ranchers who provided us with their knowledge and experience in a truly generous manner. We hope we can continue to explain the importance of the ranch landscape for Florida conservation, and share with the people of Florida the rewards, values, and challenges of running an environmentally successful ranch.”
Members of the public are welcome to visit Buck Island Ranch and learn about their environmental programs on the ranch eco-tour, known as the “Indian Prairie Safari” which is designed to reach out to the general public and the operations of a Florida cattle ranch, and the role of ranches in conserving natural resources and protecting the environment.