SFWMD using cattle leases to manage land

FORT MYERS — The South Florida Water Management District recognizes the value of low-intensity beef cattle ranching as a land management tool. At their Nov. 14 meeting, SFWMD Governing Board members renewed a cattle grazing lease on the 4,466 acres of SFWMD district land in the Grassy Island area.

“Cattle grazing is a very effective management tool on public lands,” said Gary Ritter of Florida Farm Bureau.

According to the staff report, “The district currently leases 4,466 acres known as Grassy Island to 441 Cattle LLC for low density cattle grazing in Okeechobee County. The lease expires on Dec. 3. According to the staff report, low density cattle grazing is an effective tool for managing district lands by helping to control invasive vegetation and creating and maintaining wildlife habitat. The lease contains a six-month notice of termination provision. Staff has worked with the lessee for several years to implement passive dispersed water storage on the property by installing gated culverts, low water crossings and ditch plugs. These enhancements have helped to rehydrate wetlands and improve nutrient removal and retention functions. The lease also allows the district to add additional water storage features when needed. The lease prohibits the application of fertilizer and requires the lessee to implement Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Best Management Practices such as water troughs to keep cattle out of streams and canals, development of a grazing plan, sediment and erosion control measures, conservation buffer strips and fencing to exclude cattle from sensitive areas. The annual rent, which is based on one animal unit per 11 acres (very low density) will be adjusted each year based on the district’s cattle grazing formula, which is designed to more closely correlate rental payments with market conditions. In addition to the value of land management services provided by cattle grazing, the first year anticipated revenue will be approximately $48,536.”

Lisa Interlandi of the Everglades Law Center asked the board to look at other opportunities for use of public land. “We feel it would be beneficial for SFWMD to look at public land in a more holistic way,” she said. Instead of spending money on dispersed water projects on private land, she suggested district use land it already owns for water storage.

SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett said SFWMD is developing a stormwater treatment project for this property.

“That is why the lease was crafted with an easy exit clause,” he said.

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