Cattle are wildlife’s friends. Ranch land provides sanctuaries to wildlife through the continuous management of the land.
Gene Lollis, Buck Island Ranch Manager and Florida Cattlemen’s Association president, said having cattle on the land helps enhance wildlife and biodiversity.
The biodiversity on Buck Island Ranch (BIR) ranges from 170 bird species, 30 reptile species and 25 amphibian species and many other types of wildlife.
BIR is part of the privately-owned Archbold Biological Station (ABS) in Highlands county. The ranch is a 10,500-acre working cattle ranch, making the land the platform for the research. The premise of the research is environmental, focusing on the wildlife, water and natural surroundings.
“I always felt what they did here on Buck Island with the science and research combined with what I love to do, which is work cows and run a ranch, was my way of giving back to the families that allowed me to grow up on their places,” Lollis said.
The research conducted on BIR is to show the importance of the ranching community and agriculture, he said, hoping the research shows why having cattle on the land is important.
“A lot of people think ranchers don’t do anything but raise cattle and ship them off, but it is much more complex than that,” Lollis said.
What Lollis described is a complex agricultural system, meaning ranchers must look at everything from the soil to the cattle, and everything in between.
BIR has made enclosures on the land and removed fire and cattle management from those fenced-in areas. These areas were created to demonstrate what happens to the land without any form of management.
“The area becomes an extremely dense thicket, so much so, even the birds will not land in it,” Lollis said.
When Lollis first started working at BIR, he said all of the scientists were ornithologists and studied birds. He said this was a benefit because it showed the habitat and all of the birds that exist on a ranch.
“It’s not atypical for the neighbor’s ranch or a ranch somewhere else in the state to have the same birds,” Lollis said. “We just happen to have scientists out here that count them.”
Lollis said some of the public assumes cows are bad for the water, well they actually aren’t, he described.
“We have been studying water quality for 20-30 years. Back in mid ‘90s we did a large replicated study on stocking rate,” Lollis said. “It showed that the cattle had almost zero effect on phosphorous runoff off the property.”
“We look at things we can mitigate the impact from our operations, so we have learned you don’t necessarily have to have a maximized production system, but you have to optimize the production system,” he said.
Lollis said some of the public is not willing to look at all the benefits of ranching and the supporting science.
“We are trying to tie both of these things together,” he said in reference to how ranching and science are used together.
Lollis said the biggest misconception he sees and hears is that cattle are bad for the environment.
“They are just a tool, if managed right,” he said. “None of us try to overdo things, we just try to balance the system.”