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Florida DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein Joins Stakeholders for Tour of Critical, Science-Based Land Conservation Projects in Florida Ranchlands

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 16, 2020

Photo courtesy of Carlton Ward Jr.

Photo courtesy of Carlton Ward Jr.

LAKE PLACID, Fla. – Florida’s working landare of critical importance to the state’s economy and land conservation efforts. Emphasizing their integral role, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein visited Archbold Biological Station, Buck Island Ranch and Hendrie Ranch with leaders from the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, the Florida Wildlife Corridor campaign and DEP’s Division of State Lands. Visitors observed firsthand the cutting-edge research and sustainable agricultural practices taking place to protect and maintain the natural landscape of the Lake Wales Ridge/Sandhills ecosystems.  

“Florida’s working lands and ranchlands are crucial pieces of the state’s past, present and future,” said Secretary Valenstein. “Not only do they sustain an important pillar of our state’s economy and cultural history, but they are also living, breathing laboratories that provide invaluable insight to better inform our efforts to protect and preserve Florida’s natural resources and the wildlife that depend on them. A science-based approach to land management must be part of the foundation of Florida’s land conservation efforts and our path forward.” 

Comprising more than 13,000 acres of working land, Buck Island Ranch and Hendrie Ranch include ecologically diverse habitats as well as pasture areas, semi-native grasslands and wetlands. These ecosystems are home to plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. Buck Island Ranch in particular serves as critical habitat for the Cooper’s hawk and short-tailed hawk.  

Both of these sites are proposed for acquisition through Florida Forever, the state’s premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program. The state would conserve the land in perpetuity through conservation easements, enabling landowners to sustain their trade, support the local economy and continue conservation stewardship. Under Governor Ron DeSantis’ leadership, $100 million has been allocated for Florida Forever land acquisition efforts in 2020.    

It was deeply meaningful for the team to showcase some of the wonderful species, habitats and landscapes of Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch and the Hendrie Ranch,” said Dr. Hilary Swain, Executive Director of Archbold Biological Station.Sharing enthusiasm for Florida’s vast, wide-open grasslands, with birds like kestrels, red-shouldered hawks, caracaras and harriers flying overhead, allows me to describe how ranches serve as critical habitats and wildlife corridors. Ranchlands help link protection from upstream watersheds to coastal communities, from ridge to ranch to river to reef, and conserving Buck Island, Hendrie and many other remarkable ranches is vital to Florida’s future.” 

"What a great day and opportunity to show the beauty of the vast green working landscapes that lie between our Florida coasts. I am simply humbled to be part of a very unique operation that combines science with our working cattle operation. Archbold Biological Station and Buck Island Ranch are truly a hidden gem of the unique Florida landscape," said Gene Lollis, Archbold Buck Island Ranch Manager and Florida Cattlemen's Association President. "At Archbold and Buck Island, we come together to learn, study and build solutions for the future of our Florida waters, lands and wildlife. On this day, we highlighted the importance of the connectivity of  these working lands and other conserved lands that are vital to keeping our Florida open, green and wild."

"I am very thankful for the opportunity to share our family's rich history of conservation on agricultural working landscapes,” said ranch owner Derek Hendrie. “The rosemary bald scrubs, bayhead swamps and cutthroat seeps on our family's ranch provide runoff retention and aquifer recharge for Florida's precious water resources as well as a diverse habitat and wildlife corridor for many endangered and threatened native species. Conserving these working landscapes is essential to preserve the fragile ecosystems of the state which are continually threatened by development." 

“As someone who has trekked the length and width of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, it was inspiring to visit these vital steppingstones along the Lake Wales Ridge, said Carlton Ward Jr., National Geographic Photographer and Founder of the Florida Wildlife Corridor organization. Thanks to Hendrie Ranch and Buck Island Ranch, there is still a connected green corridor uniting public and private lands between the Everglades and North Florida. With the support of DEP and Florida Forever, we have the chance to keep it that way.”  

Florida Forever is a blueprint for safeguarding natural resources and reinforcing Florida’s commitment to protect the state’s natural and cultural heritage. The conservation of working lands and ranchlands provides an opportunity to preserve Florida’s history and study the ways in which technology can help scientists predict and prepare for the impacts of climate change. The preservation of working lands and ranchlands also conserves biodiversity and helps inform the best management and allocation of protected lands as critical infrastructure. 

Dr. Hilary Swain discuses the science behind grazing and prescribed burns to maintain the diversity of Florida's wetlands.

Dr. Swain, Florida Cattlemen Association VP Jim Handley and Secretary Valenstein identifying native plant species at Henrie Ranch exclusively found in this region of Florida.