One of our primary goals on the Blue Head is to maximize the diversity of plant and animal life that lives here. We know that biological diversity is not a zero sum game. As the old cliché about a rising tide lifting all boats implies, we understand that ever increasing biological health means ever increasing carrying capacity for both domestic livestock and wildlife.
We allow six “camps” to lease hunting privileges on the Blue Head. Partly because that has been the tradition here since long before we arrived. Some of the hunters have been here for generations. We respect that and value the relationships we have with our hunters and we also realize the benefit of having several dozen stewards on the land at various times that are passionate about managing their hunting areas in ways that help nurture ever increasing and diverse populations of both game and non-game animals.
In 2019 we finally got around to hiring a wildlife biologist to count the whitetail deer and quail on the ranch. I wish we had done this the first year we were here as the consensus among the hunters seems to be that there has been an increase in at least the deer population. We will continue to do future counts to see if numbers change but the initial results determined that there are roughly 1,300 deer on the ranch or one for every 24 acres.
Apparently the quail population has been so low over the past few decades that almost no one bothers to hunt them any more and the few who do seldom chase wild birds. They usually release farm raised birds to hunt. We would like to see that become unnecessary and think our management will help in that. We had both a spring count and a fall count done and the estimate is that we presently have about 12,400 birds or one for each 2.5 acres.
The Blue Head is also home to Osceola turkeys. A sub species only found in Florida. We haven’t done an official count on them but we will and we already know, just by how commonly we run across them while out working on the ranch, that we have a lot of turkeys.
There is, of course, some unknown but obviously large number of alligators here also. Having moved here from the northern plains of Montana we were initially fascinated by the gators but they are so common we scarcely notice them any more. The state of Florida issues landowners tags allowing the harvesting of alligators based on a counting method that estimates the population. There was a new count done in 2019 and the number of tags issued to us was jumped from 40 to 100. We have never used more than a handful of even the 40 tags and haven’t tried to increase hunting now that we are allowed to take more. We may have to become more aggressive if we find that there are too many old, large gators that catch too many of our baby calves.
Feral hogs are common and if left unchecked their numbers can rapidly grow to levels that cause detrimental impacts on even rangeland. A herd of 50 or 60 wild pigs can turn several acres of grass into something resembling a plowed field overnight. And they will do it again tomorrow night. We work at keeping the population of wild pigs low enough that they don’t overrun their welcome. We initially sold pigs we caught to anyone who would buy them at any price but have recently started working with a distributor who is offering wild boar meat for sale. We hope to turn what is most often a liability into an asset producing revenue that might at least offset the cost of population control.
The animals listed above are just the most common and noticeable of the myriad species that inhabit south central Florida. I won’t even try to list the other mammals, reptiles, birds, insects and etc… that we share this land with. Suffice it to say that we know they are here for a reason and all play a part in making the Blue Head the remarkable place that it is. We intend to do all we can to see that this place is a welcoming environment for ever increasing diversity.