Raising Nature on Florida Ranchlands

Excerpt from Virginia Gewin: https://www.biographic.com/raising-nature-on-florida-ranchlands/

Blackbeard’s Ranch in southwestern Florida is hardly classic cattle-rustling terrain. Rumbling across his land in a swamp buggy, Jim Strickland steers past alligators and maneuvers through a dense mix of pines and saw palmettos. Cabbage palms soar in the distance. Strickland points out threatened sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis), crested caracaras (Caracara cheriway), wetlands he restored to help improve drinking water, and gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) thriving after he burned invasive exotic plant species. Eventually, we happen upon the first cow. He grins proudly as he tells of finding black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) tracks in the sandy soil, watching the head-bobbing antics of burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), and searching hopefully for a glimpse of his “white whale,” the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi).

Even in December, the air is sultry as Strickland describes his closest panther sighting: the tracks where the animal had dragged its prey away. “I’ve been in the woods my entire life, but I’ve never seen what I would swear on a Bible was a panther,” he says. Still, he is convinced that the key to the panthers’ success lies on the ground he and fellow ranchers steward. “A cattle ranch is the closest thing to pristine wilderness as Florida will ever get,” says Strickland, who was voted the Audubon Society’s Florida Sustainable Rancher of 2019.

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