LAKE PLACID — Archbold Biological Station announced the purchase of the coveted Buck Island Ranch last week. The scientists who perform the experiments and research on the 10,500-acre site were thrilled with the sale.
The 30-year lease Archbold had with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation had ended and trustee board members negotiated a deal for the property.
Executive Director Hilary Swain said the price of $5 million was carefully negotiated and was also a testimony to the respect the MacArthur Foundation has regarding Archbold’s work. Swain said the price is about one-fifth the estimated value of the land.
The funding for the purchase is coming from private donors and fundraising, not public funds. As a matter of fact, Archbold is still accepting donations.
Archbold has until November 2022 to come up with the remainder of the funds for the sale. The sale actually went through in November 2018, however, due to fundraising efforts, it was not announced until April 15.
The facility says the ranch will keep the Buck Island Ranch name for the sake of tradition. Staff says the property will be part of Archbold forever.
“The sale means we can capitalize on all of the work that we have done there over the last 30 years,” Swain said. “This gives us security for the future.
“Before, we were always a tenant,” she said. “We had a great relationship with the MacArthur Foundation but this gives us flexibility. We don’t have to get permission anymore.”
The property is uniquely juxtaposed at the headwaters of the Everglades on the Lake Wales Ridge. The location of the ranch allows scientists to try and slow the flow of the water that eventually ends up in Lake Okeechobee. Experiments with strategically placed grasses can slow water down and allow some nutrients to be removed from the water before it makes it to Lake Okeechobee. Several other studies and research take place on the ranch.
Deborah Pollard, Archbold’s director of philanthropy, said the scientists have no political agenda. Archbold performs the experiments and shares its data with other scientists, ranchers, the state and other agencies.
“We don’t come with an agenda,” Pollard said. “We come with data. Data is data — it doesn’t lie.”
Many scientists are needed to conduct experiments and analyze findings. Archbold partner with universities to utilize scientists and interns.
“Being an intern is great,” Swain said. “They get to live on a real world working cattle ranch.”
The ranch is a working cattle ranch while all the research is going on. The cattle even provide information as methane gas has become a hot topic.
Buck Island Ranch is one of 18 sites chosen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that together form a national network of agroecosystem research centers that study sustainable agriculture.
In Archbold’s award-winning short movie, “Cowboys and Scientists,” the viewer is treated to beautiful vistas and a slice of life on the ranch. In the movie, cowboy Gene Lollis said Buck Island Ranch was a “real world laboratory.”
According to an Archbold press release, Buck Island Ranch was given its name from the Seminole Indian Chief Billy Bowlegs. The Durrance family started the ranch in 1927, according to the release. After 40 years, the ranch became John D. MacArthur’s personal ranch for 10 years. In 1988, Archbold signed a 30-year lease on the property.
Swain said in the movie, “Having this ranch transformed us, it elevated us, and we also transformed the land by bringing our knowledge.”
For more information on Buck Island Ranch, visit buckislandranch.org. The site has links to the movie and to make a donation.