Home on the Range: Mormon Church is finding new ways to preserve wetlands and wildlife

Published: Tuesday, July 23 2013 10:00 p.m. MDT

Of course, most Floridians have trouble pronouncing Deseret ("dez-er-RET"), let alone knowing the word is derived from the LDS Church's Book of Mormon and means "honeybee." But the ranch's brand — an outline of a beehive — underscores the name.

Deseret is first and foremost a cattle ranch, with 44,000 cows and 1,300 bulls divided up among 13 different management units, each with a foreman and two cowboys over a sub-herd of some 3,500 each. Most units are cow-calf operations, with three being herd-development units — all use the latest health, nutrition and handling innovations.

Born between January and March, 33,000 calves are weaned annually in the fall at 500 pounds and shipped west to feedlots to finish off at a market-ready 1,200 pounds.

The ranch's breeding program mixes Brahman with the Hereford, Black and Red Angus, Simmental and Red Poll breeds to create Braford, Brangus and Simbra crossbreeds, which are tolerant of Florida's hot, humid climate while providing quality growth and reproductive traits.

Beyond the beef

With 160,000 acres of Deseret Ranches given to pasture land for cattle, another 1,700 acres host some 240,000 citrus trees. Besides some fresh oranges, tangerines and tangelos, mostly Valencia and Hamlin varieties of oranges are harvested as the ranch produces an annual crop the equivalent to 50 million glasses of orange juice.

Elsewhere on Deseret property, third-party operators

cultivate sod, palm trees and palmettos for landscaping and roadway projects;

mine large deposits of fossilized seashells used for road base;

cut pine, cypress, palm and other hardwoods;

and harvest small stretches of commercial crops ranging from chipping potatoes and corn to wheat and black beans.

Another ranch operation oversees the wildlife leases to some 40-plus hunting and fishing clubs using select property locations. With limited public lands in the East, most hunting has to be done on private lands.

"They're paying for an experience," Jacobsen said. "Some want to come out and hunt; some want to just come out and camp."

At Deseret, the popular game draws are the Oceola turkey, white-tailed deer, feral hog and large-mouth bass. Game laws are followed, and a full-time, on-site wildlife biologist administers monitoring, measuring and indexing programs of game taken off the ranch, using the data to help monitor population size and species health.

"It's an integrated part of the management of the ranch — if you don't manage it, you've got all sorts of problems," said Dennis, adding that non-management of wildlife results in "feast and famine cycles."

Nongame animals — such as alligators, which can grow to lengths of 12 to 14 feet — are monitored as well. Some live gators are harvested annually to manage the population, while half the alligator eggs are collected yearly and sold to local alligator farms. This and similar efforts for nongame species all follow state wildlife regulations.

Enhancing wildlife

Wildlife management for Deseret Ranches' 380-plus documented species is more than just taking away — the ranch giveth as well. A prime example is Deseret creating a wood stork rookery — one of Florida's largest — where hundreds of island nests of storks and other avian species are protected by deep, moat-like waters and trolling alligators watching for the snakes, raccoons and other animals that prey on the birds' eggs and young.

It's one of a number of efforts the ranch makes in trying to sustain and enhance the endangered and sensitive species found on the property.

Another example is how Deseret Ranches deploy what is called an "edge effect," purposefully positioning a patchwork of woodlands and wetlands in and around pasture areas, rather than just clear off all land for grazing.

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