Important Bird Areas

Buck Island Ranch

Florida

Highlands County
10,300 acres (4168 hectares)

In southeastern Highlands County, south of State Road 70, west and north of the Harney Pond Canal, and east to the Glades County line. Contiguous with the Fisheating Creek Watershed IBA to the south, and near the Lake Wales Ridge IBA to the west.

A cattle ranch within the Istokpoga-Indian Prairie region, formerly a mixed wet and dry prairie ecosystem between Lake Istokpoga and Lake Okeechobee, but now mostly drained. Cattle ranches were the dominant use of the land until recently, but citrus groves have begun to invade the prairie to a great extent. Conversion of prairies and pastures to citrus groves threaten the continued survival of many prairie species. Buck Island Ranch is owned by the MacArthur Foundation, and has been leased to Archbold Biological Station for 30 years (since 1989) to study the effects of ranching and citrus production on the ecosystem. The ranch is now also known as the MacArthur Agro-Ecology Research Center.

Numerous Indian mounds are found on the property; the Brighton Indian Reservation is within 5 miles (8 km) to the southeast.
? There are more than 500 isolated wetlands on the ranch (although most are connected by drainage ditches). ? Part of this IBA has been designated by +Cox et al. (1994) as a Strategic Habitat Conservation Area.

Ornithological Summary

Significant populations of Threatened, Special Concern, and FCREPA species; complete avian diversity of Indian Prairie species; significant natural habitats; and long-term research.

The ranch supports all known birds of the Istokpoga-Indian Prairie ecosystem, including Mottled Duck, King Rail, Sandhill Crane, White-tailed Kite, Crested Caracara, and Burrowing Owl. Black Rails represent a recent discovery, including some birds found during the breeding season. Buck Island Ranch also is an important site for Sedge Wrens, sparrows, and other wintering species.

Conservation Issues

development, human disturbance, feral hogs

Conservation issues revolve around water quality of a working cattle ranch. A comprehensive study is in progress to quantify and resolve water quality problems caused by cattle grazing operations. ? The Ranch is working with the Federal Wetland Reserve Program, and has offered 1000 acres (404 hectares) for wetlands restoration, including reestablishing a 50-acre (20-hectare) hardwood swamp. Other proposed plans include the establishment of several small palm?oak hammocks and creating an island in an existing pond, primarily as a wading birds to roost and possibly to nest.

Ownership

John D. and Katharine T. MacArthur Foundation, leased to Archbold Biological Station for long-term study

Habitat

*non-native pasture, *?semi-native wet?dry prairie,? *freshwater marsh, temperate hammock, agricultural fields, citrus groves, sawgrass marsh, lacustrine, artificial

Land Use

*grazing, *long-term agro-ecology research, conservation, recreation, hunting (6 hunters per year), cabbage palm harvesting (embryonic fronds are edible), citrus production

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