Lykes Brothers Inc Ranch WHIP Project Showcasease
Lykes Brothers Ranch WHIP Project
Lykes Brothers, Inc. owns approximately 320,000 acres in Highlands and Glades Counties. They have a forestry operation, a cattle operation, sugarcane and citrus on the land. Jim Bryan, Forestry Manager for Lykes Brothers, Inc. states, “This tract has been owned by the company for years and years. Mr. Lykes Senior, Charlie Lykes made a conscious effort in the 60s and 70s that this old long-leaf habitat would be left as is. This is prior to Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (RCW) being listed. He just knew that it was ground that was fast disappearing in Florida and he wanted it left on the family’s property and even though the company could make more money doing something else with this land we left it as is and that’s why this Red Cockaded Woodpecker is on this land right now.”
The State of Florida bought the Platt Branch Mitigation Park, about 2,000 acres in southern Highlands County in south central Florida, which had 4 or 5 colonies of red cockaded woodpeckers. The park is adjacent to the Lykes Company property which had a population on their property also, so in order to effectively manage and monitor the populations they needed to incorporate the Lykes population into it as well.
This project brings together mutually compatible interests. The private landowner can carry through with his economic intentions for the property and the other side of the coin being natural resource agencies trying to promote natural resource management working with private landowners and trying to implement practices that are actually mutually compatible.
What makes this program so special are the partnerships formed between the private landowner, the Lykes Brothers, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to leverage all of their resources, both financial and technical, to make this project happen on the ground. And the public benefits because it is a good use of their tax money for conservation benefits to protect a natural resource such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and the long-leaf pine ecosystem. “What we are trying to do here is to manage for an endangered species, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and we are trying to go ahead and bolster the population and this is a very difficult bird to manage for because it requires nice open stands of appropriate kind of canopy and under story, and the problem that we had here was that we had kind of a dense mid-story that required mechanical treatment. If we were to use fire we would be damaging the nesting sites. So our principle goal was to see if we could not remove this dense mid story level to make conditions a little bit better for coming in with prescribed burning and being able to manage the under story and that kind of a condition treat is more preferred by the bird.” said Mike Allen, Biological Administrator, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
A Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) easement agreement was signed with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) creating the Fish Eating Creek Easement. It enabled Lykes to manage the land as they always have, and not develop it. “The conservation practices that were established here on the Lykes Brothers property were brush control, mechanical brush control where we reduced the under story down to a manageable level and then prescribed fire was used to remove the fuels that posed a fuel hazard. Now the landowner is under contract both with NRCS and also with the US Fish & Wildlife Service to maintain these practices, the prescribed burning, and a rotation for 10 years after the initial use of prescribed fire.” – Jeff Norment, former State Wildlife Biologist, NRCS, Florida.
Prescribed burning is critical to managing for wildlife in the state of Florida. Many of our species in our wildlife communities and natural plant communities have evolved with fire as a natural disturbance and so the goal here was to try and replicate those natural disturbances and try to create the conditions under which these species are best able to prosper.
Phase 1 of the project is about 970 acres. “The burning and moving of this 970 acre parcel is not only good for the endangered woodpecker, it’s good for our cattle operation. It’s great for all of the other wildlife species. And just esthetically it’s a lot more pleasing to us to look at a tract like this that you can walk through, rather than some thing that is overgrown.” says Jim Bryan. “This has been a great project for us. Like I say not only for the endangered species but timber management, the cattle operation, and we also have a hunting operation and it is conducive to management in all three areas.”
The landowner has an obligation to continue on with the management practices that were established on the property. They are going to be required to prescribe burn these lands on a rotation of every two to five years to maintain the habitat in its current condition for the benefit of the natural resource, the RCW, and also the productivity for their timber lands and rangelands.
This project is considered a success from the standpoint that they were able to consolidate private and government efforts to promote the long-term well being of a rare and very important bird.