A home for the range

With development consuming more and more Florida ranch land, the Adams Ranch stands as a model for how to preserve nature - and a way of life.

Published July 17, 2005

It could be a scene from another century: Red cattle flow across green Florida grassland, guided by a rangy man on a white horse.

But the Adams Ranch, whose headquarters are in Fort Pierce, is a thoroughly modern cow-calf operation.

Founded in St. Lucie County in 1937 by Alto Adams Sr., the home ranch now covers 23,000 acres (plus operations on another 42,000 acres in three counties). It is run by Alto "Bud" Adams Jr. and his sons Mike and Lee, who help run the cattle ranch, and Robby, who oversees the citrus groves.

The fourth generation is represented by three of Bud Adams' 12 grandchildren who work on the ranch full time "and a bunch more here in the summer," Adams says.

Photographer and environmental activist Carlton Ward Jr. of Tampa took these photos this year after he became interested in the Adams Ranch's historical and environmental legacy.

Although some methods of ranching have been criticized by environmentalists, the Adams family has won awards for its stewardship from such organizations as the Florida Audubon Society.

Bud Adams says he thinks most cattle ranchers are concerned with the environment. "They own the land. They can't succeed if they don't take care of their soil and their water."

The beef cattle raised on the Adams Ranch is a breed called Braford that was developed to withstand the heat and insects of Florida and to grow quickly on grass. "We adapt the cows to the land, not the land to the cows," Adams says.

Rotational grazing of herds prevents overgrazing of pastures while reducing undergrowth, which in turn lowers the risk of wildfires and protects the ranch's many oak hammocks, a richly diverse habitat that provides cover and food for many kinds of wildlife.

Instead of using pesticides on land or water, Adams says, they try to maintain a natural balance. "We protect the birds, and they eat the bugs. We protect the live fish, and they eat the mosquito larvae.

"We don't harm the predators, and they control the rats, the snakes, the rabbits."

The Adams family preserves habitat for such predators as bobcats, foxes, eagles and alligators, but a much more formidable predator prowls the flanks of this ranch and many others: Development devours approximately 200,000 acres of rural land in Florida every year.

The Adams Ranch is among the first participants in Florida's Rural Lands Stewardship Program, which is designed to balance the loss of land to development with the preservation of land for agricultural and environmental purposes.

Adams says thoughtful practices can benefit ranchers and preserve natural habitats despite Florida's rapid growth.

"I think that's what is making these ranches so important from an environmental standpoint."


Family Lands Remembered, www.familylandsremembered.com/

The Adams Ranch, www.adamsranch.com/

The Legacy Institute for Nature and Culture, www.linc.us/