Mar 23, 2022 - News

At Blackbeard's Ranch, saving Florida's water one dam at a time

Jim Strickland shows off Blackbeard's ranch

Jim Strickland, a cattleman for most of his 65 years, on Blackbeard's Ranch, where his water conservation projects have proven successful. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

To find the man trying to save Florida, put the Sarasota traffic jams in your rearview mirror and head east on Fruitville Road, past the tidy subdivisions with their trucked-in trees, to rural Myakka City β€” to big, beautiful Blackbeard's Ranch.

  • Cattleman and conservationist Jim Strickland, who even wears a white hat, tells Axios that he has built a series of small dams on his land that have slowed water drainage and replenished drought-stricken wetlands while sending cleaner water into the Myakka River.
Strickland drives an ATV through the swamp, over a damn he built.
Strickland's rock dams have replenished wetlands on Blackbeard's Ranch in Myakka City. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

Why it matters: Water is life. Interior pockets of swamp are like Florida's kidneys, and the ephemeral wetlands at 5,000-acre Blackbeard's Ranch serve to clean and filter water that eventually becomes drinking water and serves as the habitat for manatees, fish and wildlife in the Myakka River and Charlotte Harbor.

  • If that water leaves Blackbeard's polluted or carrying nutrient-rich fertilizer, it could be harmful to an ecosystem that experienced a record number of manatee deaths last year due in part to agricultural pollution.

The big picture: Strickland tells us that the low dams, built in partnership with the National Resources Conservation Service at spots in the slough where ranch vehicles traditionally cross, could be replicated by other ranchers without much cost and improve water quality across the state.

  • Florida has some 5.5 million acres of ranch land and environmentalists are leaning more and more on ranchers to help preserve and protect those important interior green spaces.
A cow stands in water
A cow stands in a pond on Blackbeard's Ranch. Photo courtesy of Max Kelly

What's next: Biologists will study the effects of the engineering project, Strickland says.

What they're saying: "It's the simplest thing in the world, putting rocks down," Strickland told Ben as they drove around his ranch, which was teeming with wildlife, from whitetail deer to wading birds to Osceola turkeys. "But you spread it out over 5,000 or 10,000 acres and it makes a difference."

The bottom line: Before the dams, all but one of Strickland's 32 ponds were dry. Now there's water β€” and wildlife β€” everywhere you look.

  • "This is a win for us, and it's a win for everybody downstream," he said.
One of the many tributaries on Blackbeard's Ranch in Myakka City. Photo: Max Kelly
One of the many tributaries on Blackbeard's Ranch in Myakka City. Photo courtesy of Max Kelly


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