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Posts Tagged ‘Debra Guenther’

BY JONATHAN LERNER

Flooded agricultural land in payment for ecological services approach in interior Southern Florida.

From the July 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Low dikes separate pastures on the Florida cattle ranch Jimmy Wohl’s father bought in 1962, when Jimmy was 12. Jimmy runs the 5,200-acre spread now, driving his pickup along the dikes with a rifle ready on the dashboard. “I’m not a killer of everything, but if we see wild hogs I’m going to shoot them,” he says, pointing to a berm the feral animals have torn up while rooting for grubs. “That’s where all the exotic weeds will start growing,” he explains. “This really galls me. I’ve worked hard to keep these slopes grassy so when it rains it doesn’t cause all kinds of ruts.”

Rain and dikes—and invasive species, too—are often on Wohl’s mind. His ranch is about 100 miles south of Orlando in the peninsula’s sparsely populated middle. It’s an area nowadays referred to as the North Everglades, though in its primeval state the terrain was not a “river of grass” like the true Everglades, but pine flatwoods and palmetto scrub skeined with marshy creeks. It absorbed the seasonally heavy tropical rains and then trickled the water south into vast Lake Okeechobee and beyond into the Everglades proper. But over the past century, to dry out acreage for ranches, citrus groves, sugarcane fields, and other industrial-scale farming, landowners and government entities patched together a labyrinth of ditches and dikes, pumps and canals that thoroughly disrupted the region’s natural hydrology. In a climate this wet, “it is the agriculturalists’ mantra to get rid of water,” Wohl says. “We were taking what was considered wasteland and making it an economic driver, the salad bowl of the United States throughout the winter. Everybody kept throwing dollars down here, saying, ‘Drain more land, cut more canals.’”

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