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Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
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Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Adam H. Putnam, Commissioner

Buck Island Ranch

Lake Placid, Florida

Encompassing over 10,500 acres southeast of Lake Placid in Highlands County, Buck Island Ranch is a full-scale working ranch that doubles as a living laboratory for scientists studying how agriculture and the environment interact over time. Buck Island Ranch is on a 30-year lease from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to Archbold Biological Station, a not-for-profit ecological research and conservation organization. The generous lease from the MacArthur Foundation enables scientists from Archbold to use Buck Island for long-term studies on the role of South Florida ranches in sustaining essential ecosystem services.

The research at Buck Island Ranch aims at improving the environmental and economic sustainability of ranching, rather than simply improving production. Since Buck Island is not only an ecological research center but a full-scale commercial operation -- staff members must make the same kinds of practical day-to-day decisions that other ranchers make, decisions that affect both the environment and financial returns. Buck Island is among the top 20 commercial cow-calf producers in Florida and a model of environmental stewardship. Its success demonstrates that agriculture and natural resource conservation are not opposed to one another, but instead go hand in hand.

The ranch implements a comprehensive, innovative program of environmental stewardship that enhances wildlife protection and habitat conservation, minimizes pesticide use, fertilizes pastures at rates that reduce risk of environmental contamination, protects and improves water quality, and contributes toward better understanding of soil and water conservation. Buck Island Ranch provides important leadership on environmental issues in the ranching community and influences policies and practices through its strong collaborative partnerships, respected research program, and extensive outreach and education activities.

The ranch features 4,500 acres of bahiagrass pastures, used as summer pasture, and 5,640 acres of more poorly drained native range, used as winter pasture. Total cow herd size on the ranch fluctuates around 3,000. Ranch operations revenue is derived largely from cattle sales, but also includes bahiagrass sod production, hunting leases and occasional income from cabbage palm harvests.

Buck Island derives its name from a former dry prairie island that was surrounded by lower-lying marshes in the Indian Prairie region between Lake Istokpoga and Lake Okeechobee. The dry prairie is now bahiagrass pastures, and the marshes are semi-native pastures interspersed with cabbage palm and live oak hammocks. The property is dotted with over 600 small seasonal wetlands. There is also a network of more than 400 miles of ditches constructed from the 1940s through the 1970s to improve drainage. The mosaic of habitats -- improved pastures, semi-native range, forests, and wetlands -- supports 439 plant species, 168 species of birds, 17 species of fish, 53 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 32 species of mammals. Federal- and state-listed threatened and endangered species present on the property include the Eastern indigo snake, peregrine falcon, Florida sandhill crane, bald eagle, wood stork and occasionally the Florida panther and Florida black bear.

Research at Buck Island provides information on the ecology of wildlife species and native plant communities on private ranches. Long-term research at the ranch allows scientists to examine the influence of year-to-year variation in climate on important ecological traits, including the breeding success of raptors such as the red-shouldered hawk and crested caracara, and the composition and structure of frog communities in seasonal wetlands. Such studies are essential for understanding the habitat services provided by Floridaís cattle ranches.

Another focus of research on the ranch is water. South Florida faces tremendous challenges in sustaining the quality and supply of its fresh water, and cattle ranches are in a crucial position to address these challenges since ranches occupy a large land area in the watershed north of Lake Okeechobee. Several major research projects being conducted at the ranch examine the effects of different management practices on water quality and water supply. Recently, the ranch demonstrated that previous land use history, particularly fertilizer use, had a marked effect on water quality, but that reducing cattle stocking density below normal levels did not. Results from Buck Islandís water-quality research projects help inform policy and environmental programs at the state level.

The staff at Buck Island Ranch is committed to raising public awareness about the environmental values provided by ranches and the economic pressures facing ranchers. Outreach efforts include guided eco-tours of the property and agro-ecology research internships for college students. Buck Island Ranch partners with major universities, state and federal agencies, producers, and environmental groups to contribute to a better understanding and broader awareness of the ecological, economic, and cultural value of Floridaís cattle ranches.

Watch the Buck Island Ranch Video
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