Title: 1997 Ag-Environmental: Anclote River Ranch
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
Jay B. Starkey Jr: One of my earliest memories of this ranch, probably my first one, is when I was about five years old, my mother and father and my grandmother on my father's side came up here for a picnic, and we rode out through the woods and finally got to this spot; and we had our picnic here and I remember this tree particularly because of the burls it has on it, and this clearing here, which is natural, pretty much the way it always has been. And after we ate lunch, my grandmother took me and we cut a little branch or a little sapling or something and had some fishing line, and I caught my first fish right down here on the Anclote River, a small bass, you know. And so that's one of my earliest memories of this place.
From his earliest days, rancher Jay B. Starkey Jr. had an appreciation of “the Old Florida.” Stories of his father, J.B. Starkey Sr., moving cattle from Brooksville to Clearwater without leaving the shade of a tree left him with a lasting impression of the vastness of the early forest canopy. And though the days of open range land are gone, it was Jay B. Jr.'s love of the land that compelled him to shape his Anclote River Ranch into a showcase of “the Real Florida.”
The Anclote River Ranch, located in Odessa in West Central Florida, embraces much of the Anclote River head waters and features some of the most diverse terrain in the state. Turkey oak uplands, sand pine ridges, flatwoods, cypress heads, riverine hammocks and swampland all converge in this area. The land was purchased in 1937 by Jay B. Starkey Sr. and his partners and consolidated into 16,000 acres of contiguous property.
Jay B. Starkey Jr: They had two roundups a year; and that was just a big time to come up here for the week, and so I spent a lot of my childhood and younger days up here before I went to school.
Jay B. Starkey Jr. assumed ownership of the cattle operation in 1966. Today the Anclote River Ranch is primarily a cow/calf operation with 600 head of crossbred Brahma, Hereford, and Angus cattle. Through health and management techniques, the Starkeys have earned a reputation for producing a consistent, quality product. To supplement its income, the ranch occasionally sells hay, sod and timber. Considered one of the best turkey hunting grounds in the state, its hunting leases are in great demand.
And while Starkey takes great pride in the ranch's operation, it's how he cares for the land around him that gives him his greatest satisfaction.
Jay B. Starkey Jr: I think good stewardship is an attitude that you have or develop
out of respect for what God has put here and making decisions that are best for the long run environmentally to enhance and try to reverse, in some cases, the extreme things that man has done to the land over the past.
The family tradition of stewardship began with Jay B Starkey Sr. To preserve a portion of his land in its natural state, the elder Starkey donated 250 acres to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park continues to be a favorite getaway for area residents.
With a burdensome 50 percent estate tax looming, it became apparent to the senior Starkey that more of the land would need to be divested before he passed away. Determined that the process of breaking up the property would not be detrimental to the environment, Jay B. Starkey Sr. sold 8,100 acres of pristine forest and wetlands to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. This divestiture, used for the Starkey Well Field and a county park, would ensure that most of the property would remain in its natural state.
Kevin Love, SWFWMD: When the land was acquired by the District from the Starkeys, it was in excellent condition it had been managed really beautifully, so it made my job easier. People really need to have a place where they go and first to be able to learn and understand about the real Florida, about a natural Florida, and how important it is. But also, I think it just recharges your soul and helps you unwind and kind of get away from the stresses of the rat race. And I think it improves the quality of life.
Following in his father's footsteps, Jay B. Starkey Jr. made another important divestiture in 1996. To offset wetlands being destroyed in the construction of the Suncoast Parkway, the Anclote River Ranch sold 3600 acres to the Department of Transportation. With the sale of this land, and a small portion divested for real estate development, the Anclote River Ranch now sits on 3,400 acres.
On the Anclote River Ranch, clearing has been done in such a way as to accentuate the natural elements of the property. Flat woods areas, that had been previously turpentined and cut over for timber, were cleared, while tracts with dramatic stands of large oaks and longleaf pine were left in their natural state. Like his father before him, Jay B. Starkey Jr. was now leaving a legacy of stewardship for his sons.
Trey Starkey: He’s the one that has done all the clearing on the land. I've been able to watch what he's very carefully done in terms of clearing the land and making sure that the land that's cleared is appropriate for that type of use, and maximize what's left. Now, what he has done, just inherently because he understood what it meant to keep these various habitats un-cleared and in their native states and foster and promote them. And you can simply see it by looking at it from the air.
Practices that the Starkeys implemented and considered common sense would become the environmental norm years later. Selective cutting, and leaving “super trees” for reseeding and further growth, was crucial for the continuity of the ecosystem. Observing natural trends led Starkey to change the way he applied prescribed burning, a practice equally important to the health of the land.
Jay B. Starkey Jr: Now, for many years, we were on the old cracker timing of burning the woods in the winter and early spring, which was done for many years to provide growth or re-growth of wiregrass which cows fattened on. This cycle that was good for the grass for a short time, kind of distorted the plant mix. So, we're changing our burning program to later in the spring and early summer to try to get more of a natural cycle. So we have some places where the longleaf pine is beginning to reestablish, and some nice saplings that are coming along.
Another observation was that wildlife increased as the land was improved. With trees for shelter and grasses for food, the turkey population soared. In an effort to bring deer back to the property, Starkey entered into an agreement with the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. For each turkey trapped by the Commission for use in repopulating other areas, Starkey received two deer for his property. As the herd grew, the ranch again joined with the Commission in a Game Management Program, ensuring the health and quality of the deer population.
As the land continued to be improved, the Anclote’s reputation for wildlife management spread. For example, the Audubon Society, impressed with the diversity of bird species, held its annual Christmas Bird count on the ranch.
The same creativity Starkey applies to improving the environment, he also uses in everyday life. In an effort to conserve fuel, time and manpower -- Starkey created the Bale Dumper, a simple tool that enables one man to load, transport and dump round bales of hay for cattle feed -- a job that once required at least two men.
Frank Starkey: Dad was always experimenting with new techniques and new things and developing new devices to make the work better and make the land more productive and also more sustained; so I grew with an understanding that agriculture is interactive, and really a partnership with the land.
Starkey’s passion for the “real Florida” is shared by Marsha, his wife of 35 years. Together they have turned the land surrounding their home into a tribute to the beauty of native plants. The Native Plant Society has toured the ranch to document the variety species indigenous to the area.
His dedication to improving the Anclote River Ranch is second only to caring for his family. JB and Marsha raised their four children, Trey, Sarah, Laura and Frank, on the ranch. The building that once was the family home, now serves as the main office from which the property is managed.
With encouragement from his mother, Jay B. Starkey began playing the saxophone when he was nine years old. Through practice and natural ability, he would become an accomplished musician. While he does sing with the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, his favorite musical achievement is founding the Bay Area Saxophone Quartet.
Marsha Starkey: So he gets credited with being the one that found the saxophone quartet, and they all kid him because they're all professional musicians, and he's the token cattleman in the group, and he's always gets introduced as the cattleman. I joke about his first love being music, and I rank somewhere right up close there, but music has been real important to him.
A respected leader of his community, Starkey has always held at least one civic job while running the ranch. He served on the school board of Pasco County for eight years, added the perspective of businessman and large landowner as a member of the Pinellas-Anclote Basin Board and served on the Sixth Judicial Nominating Committee. He served as choir director and elder of the Presbyterian Church, and as a representative at the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S. He's opened his ranch to charity hay rides, educational tours and the development of Outdoor Nature Classrooms for the Pasco School System. And Starkey was instrumental in starting the Odessa Rodeo -- a fundraiser for charitable causes.
In addition to all that he has done for the community over the years, there is one legacy of which Starkey is especially proud. Thanks to the foresight of the Starkey family and their remarkable stewardship, 19,000 acres of preserved land now stands as an oasis in one of the state's most urbanized areas -- 19,000 acres of pristine land held in perpetuity by the state, enabling future generations to return to “the real Florida.”
Jay B. Starkey Jr: “Naturally, you become attached to something that you’ve spent your life on and have so many good memories of. And it s a sense of satisfaction knowing that in most ways the land is better than it was, you know, 40 or 50 years ago.