County commissioners are expected next month to receive an update on a pilot program they authorized, which is intended to better manage the 35,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land the county owns.
Advocates of the cattle-grazing program, which is six months old, say it is working well.
“(The county) wanted to show that cattle grazing could help us with (property) management and provide a needed source of cattle-grazing agreements with the county,” said Belinda Perry, a natural resources manager with the county.
The three-year pilot program calls for cattle ranchers to bid on placing up to 35 cattle on a plot of county land and agree either to pay a fee or perform in-kind services on the property.
A single rancher has his cattle grazing on 190 acres of land, known as the Jordyn Parcel, in the county’s Deer Prairie Creek site, which is near the Carleton Reserve, close to North Port.
In exchange for the opportunity to let his animals feed there, the man performs tasks such as keeping the trails mowed and monitoring exotic species.
But according to Perry, the most valuable service the ranchers will perform is providing security.
“He’s an extra set of eyes,” she said. “Anytime you have vacant land, you can have poaching, vandalism, joy-riding and unauthorized trail-making.”
According to a 2008 survey of its 35,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land, the county determined only about 600 acres were suitable for cattle grazing.
For that reason, that activity will most likely not be a significant revenue generator for the county, so land management will be the program’s most important goal.
Click here to view a graphic of Jordyn Parcel.