November 11th, 2013
By Elam Stoltzfus
90 second interstitial for WUSF on the Kissimmee River
In early 2009 I was invited to attend a Cattleman’s meeting by a good friend of mine, Kimball Love. The meeting was about how conservation agencies and Florida cattleman can work closer together to preserve their land. This immediately caught my attention: cattlemen as conservationists? I gotta see this. This meeting was the beginning of a three year project leading towards a documentary about the Kissimmee River basin. The Kissimmee River is one of the main arteries that flows into Lake Okeechobee which then seeps into the Everglades. Because of its connection to the river of grass further south, the Kissimmee River basin is also known as the Northern Everglades. As I began gathering historical information and interviews from the community, I realized that the larger story was both complex and controversial. The more I listened and learned, I realized how important it was to craft a solid story for public education; a story of both the past ecological devastation and current steps towards one of the largest wetland restorations in the world.
One of my first interviews was with Okeechobee rancher Sonny Williamson; after I was done with the interview he gave me a few names of other people I should interview. One person led to another, all forming a web connecting people in this region. This pursuit came with invitations to many locations, one being to Avon Park Air Force Range. On a hot August afternoon I interviewed an officer at Avon Park as he talked about the environmental work being done to protect 10,000 acres along the river. This was followed by a military training exercise with a Marines unit.
Another unique opportunity was the opportunity to be part of a cattle drive on the Lightsey Cattle Ranch along Lake Kissimmee. The Lightsey family and farmhands wake up before the sun rises and work long after it sets. Cattle management in Florida has a unique blend of long proven techniques mixed with modern technology. Old time Cracker horses and Cracker cur-dogs are used to round and herd cattle across miles of open pasture areas; the same as generations past. The updates come in the form of electronic implants in the cattle used to track everything from health records, to date of birth, to current location. This information is logged in a computer and provides important management records.
For more information on the Kissimmee River documentary visit www.NorthernEverglades.com