In the Heartland

Conservation Easement for Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch Approved

by JULIE GMITTER

Just 15 miles northwest of Lake Okeechobee lies Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, a 10,000+ acre area of land that is home to a working cattle ranch of nearly 3,000 cattle. On August 23, Governor Ron DeSantis and his Cabinet announced a proposed conservation easement of 1,883 acres within Buck Island Ranch. The addition of this conserved land would contribute more acreage to the Florida Wildlife Corridor. 

Buck Island Ranch is part of the headwaters of the Everglades. The property is currently an active cattle ranch surrounded by valuable grassland habitats with diverse — and threatened — flora and fauna. 

Dr. Betsey Boughton, Archbold’s Director of Agroecology Research at the Ranch, describes these grasslands as “a stunning mosaic of species, rich prairies, and wetlands that [exemplify] the imperiled grassland region of south-central Florida.”  The acreage also serves as the living laboratory for both the Archbold’s Agroecology Research Program and the USDA Long-Term Agroecosystem Research LTAR network. 

The two parcels of land on the eastern and western boundaries of the ranch will be included in the acreage, which will provide connectivity for and provide the ability to continue open grazing and cattle ranch operations without incident, as well as protect the threatened species within the open grassland on the property. 

The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, as well as a grant awarded to FDACS from the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service under the USDA Grasslands of Special Significance, are both providing funding for this new conservation easement. 

Dr. Hillary Swain, Archbold’s executive director, says, “Our goal is to protect and enhance Florida’s grasslands. This easement will contribute towards Archbold’s ability to sustain Buck Island both as a protected working landscape and as a vital research center serving Florida agriculture and environment.” 

Gene Lollis, ranch manager at Buck Island and a former president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, adds, “Cattle have been part of the Florida landscape for 501 years, and cattle ranching has played an integral role in Florida’s history. My hope is that this purchase, and many more easements like this, can be concluded soon to preserve this history. I pray that these lands, waters, and wildlife will exist forever for the generations to come.” 

Lela Love, chair of Archbold’s Board, adds, “This easement is a win for Archbold, for Florida and for all who care about the beauty of our lands and their wild inhabitants.”

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