Buck Island Ranch in Highlands wins Audubon prize

ORLANDO — On Wednesday, June 20, Audubon Florida announced Buck Island Ranch as the recipient of the 2018 “Sustainable Rancher of the Year” award. A 10,500-acre cattle ranch, Buck Island is part of Archbold Biological Station located in Highlands County. Audubon’s Charles Lee presented the award at the Florida Cattlemen’s Association’s annual convention at the Omni Resort near Orlando.

“The important work at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch not only conserves this beautiful ranch but also showcases how cattle ranching and our natural environment can coexist successfully,” said Mr. Lee, Audubon Florida’s director of advocacy. “Working lands and collaborative partnerships like this one represent one of the best hopes for advancing conservation in Florida.”

Since 1988, under a lease from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Archbold has successfully managed Buck Island Ranch as a site for scientific research, education and conservation. It hosts outstanding wildlife populations; Archbold scientists have documented more than 722 plant and animal species at the ranch, including six federally threatened or endangered species.

Special to the Okeechobee News/Courtesy of Audubon Florida
In the photo, from left, are Dr. Paul Gray of Audubon Florida; Gene Lollis, manager of Buck Island Ranch; Hiliary Swain, director of Archbold Biological Station; Charles Lee of Audubon Florida; and Ken Griner, president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

The ranch is also an important innovator, pioneering new ways to clean and retain water on working ranches, conducting research on water management and implementing water retention projects on-site.

To ensure that Buck Island Ranch will always be used for ranching and protection of wildlife habitat, 3,746 acres of it are enrolled in conservation easements under the USDA’s Wetland Reserve Program. An additional 6,754 acres of ranch are ranked on the Tier 1 priority list for easement acquisition under the state’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, a key program to engage ranchers in conservation easements.

While achieving outstanding and large-scale benefits for conservation, Buck Island Ranch succeeds as a commercial cattle ranch. It is among the top 20 commercial cow-calf producers in Florida, with approximately 3,000 Brahma-cross cows bred to 150 Angus or Charolaise bulls. Historically, the ranch produced about 2,300 calves, but today it works with other Florida ranchers, retaining ownership of its calves in-state and marketing the beef in Florida markets.

Audubon collaborates with landowners, land managers, government agencies and private industry to increase the quality of habitat on privately managed lands. Audubon also helps landowners and land managers apply bird-friendly practices on their lands and develop market-based solutions to advance conservation. Each year, Audubon Florida recognizes responsible ranchers with the Sustainable Rancher of the Year award.

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