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Mr. Jim Strickland: A Fixture in Florida Conservation

By Luis Gonzalez, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Mr. Jim Strickland, 2021 Florida Land Steward of the Year, receiving his Wildlife Habitat Recognition Program sign. Photo by Luis Gonzalez.

Congratulations to Mr. Jim Strickland, our 2021 Florida Land Steward of the Year! Mr. Strickland has become a welcome fixture in the Florida conservation community. A lifelong resident of Manatee County and sixth generation Floridian with over six decades of ranching experience, Mr. Strickland has developed a strong land ethic and is passionate about preserving the working and wild lands of his home state. Jim is owner of Strickland Ranch and managing partner of Blackbeard’s Ranch, both located in Manatee County. It is for his work and accomplishments on Blackbeard’s Ranch that he is recognized with the 2021 Florida Land Steward of the Year Award.

Blackbeard’s Ranch is a 4,530 acre cattle ranch located near Myakka City, in a rural part of Manatee County. Although the area is still primarily rural, this part of the state is under increasing development pressure, due to its proximity to the expanding cities of Bradenton and Sarasota. Blackbeard’s Ranch is primarily a cow calf operation and focused on beef production, but is also experimenting with production of pork, honey, goat cheese, heritage chickens, and other products. Although the ranch relies on agricultural production for its income, Blackbeard’s Ranch is committed to an approach to agricultural use that focuses on long term sustainability in ranch operations, and good stewardship of the natural resources within the property. As part of good stewardship of the land, a large portion of Blackbeard’s Ranch is preserved and managed as natural communities, including pine flatwoods, marshes and swamps, prairies, and hammocks. Mr. Strickland believes his lands should be as much a home to native wildlife as the livestock he derives his living from and manages the ranch with both in mind.

Blackbeard’s Ranch is home to many imperiled species such as wood storks. Photo by Tyler Jones

After Blackbeard’s ranch was acquired in 2014, Mr. Strickland began reaching out to natural resource professionals to form partnerships that would help him realize his vision of managing the ranch in an environmentally sustainable way. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Landowner Assistance Program biologists completed a Conservation Stewardship Plan for the property in 2015, and ranch staff quickly began implementing the recommendations in the plan. They initiated a prescribed burn program, partnering with the Florida Forest Service and FWC for the initial burns conducted on site. They began aggressively treating invasive plant infestations found throughout the site, and initiated a feral hog control program, partnering with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct helicopter hunts on the ranch. These efforts have borne fruit, with ranch staff reporting increases in the populations of game species on the property, including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and Bobwhite quail. The management actions of Mr. Strickland and his staff are also improving the availability and quality of habitat for the many nongame species that also call the ranch home, including a number of imperiled species such as crested caracaras, gopher tortoises, sandhill cranes, and at-risk wading birds (wood storks, little blue herons, tricolored herons, and roseate spoonbills). Due to the improvements made through the hard work of ranch staff, Blackbeard’s Ranch was recognized under FWC’s Wildlife Habitat Recognition Program in 2019.

Mr. Strickland strongly believes in preserving Blackbeard’s Ranch’s rangeland uses for long term, and he is pursuing options for placing the land under perpetual conservation easement. To date, a conservation easement has been placed on 1,551 acres of the ranch, through the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Wetlands Reserve Easement program. In addition to protecting the land permanently from development or conversion, this program will restore and enhance wetlands in order to benefit native wildlife and improve water quality and hydrologic function. Mr. Strickland is actively seeking other opportunities to try and ensure that the entirety of the ranch is protected in perpetuity, placing the property on the application lists for easements through Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

Jim Strickland provides information for a FWC Landowner Assistance Program video about using prescribed fire on his cattle ranch. Photo by Luis Gonzalez.

Mr. Strickland is not content with managing Blackbeard’s Ranch in a sustainable manner for his own benefit, but strongly believes in sharing this conservation-based approach to ranching with as many people as he can. He intends Blackbeard’s Ranch to serve as a working example for other land owners and managers who share his land ethic and are interested in a conservation-based approach to working lands. He also envisions the ranch as a natural laboratory, where environmental research opportunities can be pursued, and new approaches to sustainable agriculture can be experimented with. Jim regularly invites other ranchers, land managers, conservation professionals, government officials, politicians, scientists, and educators to the ranch, in order to promote his vision, actively share the lessons he has learned, and to advocate for the preservation of working and wild lands throughout his home state. Mr. Strickland’s advocacy extends well beyond the boundaries of his own properties, and he is often found in the state capital, advocating for land conservation opportunities. He is vice chairman and co-founder of the Florida Conservation Group (FCG), a cooperative of ranchers, conservation and policy experts, and scientists who advocate for science-based protection of working ranch lands and wild lands in Florida. The group focuses its efforts on land conservation, conservation assistance, conservation science, and advocacy and education.

Mr. Strickland has been recognized for his efforts by a wide array of conservation and agricultural groups. He was awarded “Sustainable Rancher of the Year” by Florida Audubon in 2019, and recognized through the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Environmental Stewardship Award Program the same year. Jim was awarded the 2018 Florida Cattleman’s Association Environmental Stewardship Award and Florida Agricultural Commissioner’s 2018 Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award, and was also named as one of Florida Trends 500 Most Influential Business Leaders for 2018 and 2019 for his work in agriculture and conservation.

Working lands in Florida contain much of the state’s remaining wildlife habitat and environmental resources. Ranch owners, forest landowners, and agricultural producers will continue to play a critical role in conserving what remains of natural Florida and ensuring that it provides economic and environmental benefits for future generations. Their commitment to a land ethic, and to stewardship of the lands to which they are privileged to own will play a determining role in the future of environmental quality within the state. Mr. Jim Strickland’s dedication and commitment to a land ethic, and good stewardship of the lands he controls provides an excellent example of these values, embracing a view of cattle ranching that preserves the ranching tradition while simultaneously protecting the state’s fragile natural resources.

Learn more about Jim Strickland at http://stricklandranch.com/

Watch a video about management and a prescribed burn at Blackbeard’s ranch at the FWC’s Landowner Assistance page:  https://myfwc.com/lap/

This article is by Luis Gonzalez, Landowner Assistance Program Regional Coordinator, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission