Giving Compass' Take:

• Virginia Gewin writes about how ranchers and environmentalists are working together in Florida to conserve important open land.

• Why are ranchers and environmentalists often referred to as adversaries? How can you draw awareness to their common interests? Why is collaboration between ranchers and environmentalists essential to mitigate the impacts of over-development? 

• Learn about regenerative agriculture, one way everyone -- including ranchers and environmentalists -- can experience the benefits of conservation.

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, crested caracaras, wetlands he restored to help improve drinking water, and gopher tortoises thriving after he burned invasive exotic plant species.

Planned development projects will not only carve up scarce open space in central Florida, but also compromise the land’s ability to recharge dwindling aquifers, complicate downstream Everglades restoration, and potentially sever vital wildlife corridors. “Development is agriculture’s worst enemy,” says rancher Lefty Durando, who along with Strickland started the Florida Conservation Group, a collective of ranchers and conservationists who lobby for policies that will keep working lands solvent so they don’t succumb to development pressure.

As much as 122,000 hectares of Florida ranchland have been lost over the past decade because of development, according to the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. At 21 million people, Florida has the highest population of any state in the southeast. Preserving land isn’t just critical for endangered gopher tortoises and wood storks. Humans need green spaces too—a point that often gets overlooked.

One reason that humans need that open land is access to clean water, which in Florida is an increasingly critical issue. And although “ranchers versus environmentalists” is a well-trodden trope, Florida’s troubles point toward a different paradigm. Strickland argues that Florida’s ranches provide water storage, nutrient capture, clean air, and wildlife habitat—largely free of charge.

Read the full article about collaboration between ranchers and environmentalists in Florida by Virginia Gewin at YES! Magazine.