Sunday, April 24, 2011

Running the Grunion

When I tell people about my early years living on the West Coast near Los Angeles, I always include my youthful recollections of running the grunion with my folks and their friends along Redondo Beach. I am not sure those hearing my stories always believed me; I was a young buck then, the scourge of Miss Dawn’s nursery school, and surely I was making up the whole thing . After all, I used to stand in front of the picture window in our living room watching the nighttime glow of wildfires burning in Malibu and Topanga Canyon across the bay and thinking that China was on fire. What did I know? But as I grew older and wiser I discovered that others have told similar tales. F. Scott Fitzgerald describes the running of the grunion in The Last Tycoon (the unfinished version published in 1941) as does Charles Bukowski in his poems “The Hunt” and “Grab the Grunion.” So it is not an urban myth as some of you might think. We are not talking snipe hunts here There really are grunion and people continue to run them to this very day.

The grunion is actually a small silver-sided fish measuring 5-7 inches which can be found along the Southern California coast below Point Conception, and as far south as the Mexican beaches of Baja California. They resemble smelt although they are not related. And they are not netted like smelt (in fact, netting is explicitly verboten) nor are they taken on bait like other fish. They are caught by hand and only by hand and collected in buckets for a fish fry the following day. There is no creel limit; you keep what you are able to eat and that’s all. There is a brief closed season during the height of the spring spawning season; but otherwise the bountiful grunion are fair game.

The iridescent “silversides” arrive on a nighttime high tide two to six days after a full moon and continue to come ashore for a few hours until the tide begins to ebb. The females come ashore, wiggle down into the sand to deposit their eggs, and then the males will gather around them to secrete their milt. It collects around the female’s body and fertilizes the buried eggs. The lucky ones do the deed and return to the ocean as subsequent waves wash over them. The less fortunate find themselves sloshing around in buckets of seawater and kelp and destined for the dinner table.

Fitzgerald called the grunion a “very punctual fish” and captured a grunion “run” on the beach at Santa Monica in The Last Tycoon. It was a fine blue night. The tide was at the turn and the little silver fish rocked off shore waiting for 10:16. A few seconds after that time they came swarming in with the tide and Stahr and Kathleen stepped over them barefoot as they flicked slip-slop in the sand . . . They came in twos and threes and platoons and companies, relentless and exalted and scornful around great bare feet of the intruder, as they had come before Sir Francis Drake had nailed his plaque to the boulder on the shore.

I still have very vivid memories of running the grunion on Redondo Beach back in the mid 1950s; the moonlit night, the flashlight beams sweeping across the sand and small bonfires on the beach. For a little kid it was great fun and adventure to be allowed to stay up after one’s normal bedtime to wander the beach and catch fish by hand. Everyone kept their flashlights trained on each succeeding wave as it stretched its waters over the sand. Soon we spotted a few fish dancing along the edges of the receding water. We were told these were scouts and they must be allowed to return to give their compatriots a thumbs up that the coast is clear. Soon, with each retreating wave, the sand was alive with thousands of tiny fish. We rushed forward and gathered the grunion into our buckets. Each wave would bring more ashore and soon our buckets were filled to the brim.

The next day my dad snipped off the heads and quickly dressed the tiny fish before drenching them with flour and deep frying then. I remember eating the grunion like I would french fries, dipping them in some tangy cocktail sauce. Not only did I get to catch these fish by hand, but I was allowed to eat them by hand, as well. What little kid wouldn’t like that?

Grunion, unlike smelt, are not available in stores or restaurants. If you want to eat them, you have to hit the beaches when they do. Running the grunion may not be as exciting as hooking and landing a fat, three-foot rockfish out in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, but I can’t think of a more memorable fishing

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Farewell to the Mullet Latitudes: Dispatches from the Sunshine State X

Tomorrow I say good-bye to Florida and take the long drive back up Interstate 95 to Maryland. At home I cross a state line several times each week yet for the past five weeks we have never left the confines of the Sunshine State. It is going to be hard to leave, but before I do, here is my last brief dispatch as I say farewell to what the late Al Burt, columnist for the Miami Herald, referred to lovingly as the “Mullet Latitudes.” This Florida sojourn has taken me around the state, to places both familiar and new on the main highways and the blue highways.

I have been coming to Florida regularly for over four decades. My family came here for winter vacations when I was in high school, and then I spent my undergraduate college years here in the late 60s and early 70s. My wife is a native Floridian and lived here her entire life until I married her and whisked her away to Arizona and eventually to Maryland. My parents moved here in retirement in the mid-1980s and my mom is still here as is my mother-in-law. Both of our dad’s are buried here. We may live in and travel to different places, but we always seem to “come home” to Florida. When I do, I am always amazed that I find something new to discover and explore.

This time around I have explored Aripeka, an old haunt along the Gulf Coast. It is a place I first explored over forty years ago and I ask myself why it has taken me so long to come back. I’m glad I did. It is still a backwater but on the fringes of civilization and strip malls are moving ever closer. I have pondered the billboard blight along Florida’s highways which is also creeping ever closer to Aripeka and other small out-of-the way communities. I wonder how much longer they can hold out. Al Burt also wondered about this and I can better understand his concern for the Florida of yesteryear. It is quickly disappearing. I have explored the scrub lands of central Florida where settlers and soldiers fought the Seminole in three wars in the 19th century to establish primacy over this new American territory. I have searched across the state for genuine Cuban sandwiches. Some were better than others but all of them were good. I have considered the plight of the bison herd on Paynes Prairie and explored the cracker haunts about which Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote so eloquently and where I reacquainted myself with the fine cracker cuisine of north central Florida.

Most of all, we return to Florida to visit family and friends living and dead. This is the main reason we keep coming back. Yet, as we look around, we cannot ignore what we see around us. Perhaps Al Burt said it best in an April 27, 2003 editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat. “We common folk see Florida as a place struggling to stay true to itself--struggling to maintain an honest identity. We are people who find significance not only in headlines, and beauty not only in colorful horizons, but also in the small things of Florida--the sights and smells of home that were blooded and boned into our beings as we grew up. These represent heritage and affirming identity. For us they are the true things of Florida.“ Tomorrow we head north and home. We will be back. Of course we will! We can’t help but come back. Florida is in our blood and marrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Along the Fort King Military Road: Dispatches from the Sunshine State IX

I recently took a road trip from Gainesville down through the scrub cattle country of central Florida. This is a part of Florida that most tourists (indeed most Floridians) only see from their car windows as they drive down Interstate 75 at 70 mph (if not faster). That is a shame, because there is so much to see, along with a great deal of hidden history, if you know where to look. My route took me south from Gainesville to Williston where I joined US Highway 41, a main north-south route paralleling I-75. This highway runs from the Georgia border, near Valdosta, south through central Florida to Tampa and the Gulf coast before turning east near Naples to cross the Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades as the Tamiami Trail. It ends on the shores of Biscayne Bay south of Miami.

The area I explored was the heart of the territory held since the early 1700s by the Seminoles, a southern branch of the Creek tribal confederation originally found in what is now Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. A dominion of Spain since 1513, this region of Florida hosted a number of Spanish missions and cattle ranches as well as native Timucuan Indians. There was also the Alacuha Seminoles led by Chief Cowkeeper who also raised cattle in this area.

Florida was transferred to British sovereignty by treaty in 1763 after the Seven Years War (known as the French and Indian War in this side of the pond). The British naturalist William Bartram traveled throughout this area in 1774, describing the Seminole cattle herds on the great Alachua savannah now known as Paynes Prairie (a tribute to the great Alachua Seminole chief King Payne) located just south of Gainesville. Florida did not remain British long, however, and was returned to Spanish rule in the 1780s following the British defeat during the American Revolution.

The infant United States flexed its military muscle and in 1814 American soldiers commanded by General Andrew Jackson defeated the Creek in their original tribal lands in the former southeastern colonies. They later pursued them into Spanish Florida in 1816 in what became known as the First Seminole War which ended in 1818. This was America’s first “foreign war” as Spain did not cede Florida to the United States until 1821.

With the influx of settlers into the new American territory, the Seminoles (this became a collective term for all Native Americans in Florida) were forced to move farther south. This resulted in clashes and loss of life which the new territorial government found unacceptable. The Seminoles provided sanctuary for fugitive slaves in the territory and this led to a further deterioration of relations. The white settlers also challenged the Seminoles for cattle grazing rights. Something had to give. The Treaty of Moultrie Creek, in 1823, established a number of Seminole reservations in the central Florida scrub country as a means of segregating the native population so that it could not interfere with further settlement of the territory.

Even with the creation of reservations, Seminoles and white settlers continued to clash and a number of forts and military fortifications were established throughout the Florida territory to keep an eye on the reservations and their inhabitants. Two of the most important of these were Fort Brooke, established at the confluence of the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay, at present-day Tampa, in 1824, and Fort King, today Ocala, just over 100 miles to the northeast, in 1827. The Fort King Military Road, a wide path cut through scrub country (roughly following the route of State Route 41 today) connected these two fortifications.

The government in Washington quickly realized that the Seminoles were an impediment to the settling of the Florida territory. Following the passage of the Indian Removal Act in May 1830 during the administration of President Andrew Jackson, who was no friend to Native Americans, the government convinced a number of native chiefs that their people would be better off in unsettled territory west of the Mississippi acquired from the French in the Louisiana Purchase. This led to the Treaty of Payne’s Landing, in 1832, and plans for the westward resettlement of Florida’s Seminoles. Both Fort Brooke and Fort King would play a major role in protecting settlers from encroachment by the Seminoles while assisting in their resettlement to “Indian Territory” in what is now Oklahoma.

The treaty was ratified in 1834 giving the Seminoles three years to accomplish the move. A core group of Seminole under chiefs Osceola and Micanopy opposed this plan and chose to defend their homeland against further American expansion. Fort King, which had closed in the meantime, was reopened to enforce the treaty and to facilitate the westward migration. Seminole continued to clash with white settlers and Osceola and Micanopy conducted hit and run raids throughout the territory. Washington responded by sending more troops to Florida to reinforce the existing garrisons. By 1835 there were approximately 550 regular troops and more volunteers stationed throughout the Florida territory. The situation remained tense and Fort King, with a garrison consisting of a single company of 50 men, feared it might be overrun.

A decision was made to transfer two additional companies from Fort Brooke to Fort King. Two days before Christmas, 108 American troops under the command of Major Francis L. Dade, departed Fort Brooke for the march up the military road to reinforce the garrison at Fort King. A band of Seminole shadowed their route almost from the outset, and on December 28, the Seminole war party ambushed the column along the military road just a short distance from the present day town of Bushnell. The troops dug in to fend off the attackers but were eventually overwhelmed. During the skirmish all but three of the American soldiers were killed. Two made their way back to Fort Brooke and one of these died a few days later; only one lived to tell what happened on that fateful day.

The Dade massacre, as it came to be called, precipitated the Second Seminole War which eventually forced the Seminoles southward out of central Florida and into the swampy Everglades. The United States eventually committed over 30,000 troops to the struggle and suffered nearly 1500 battle deaths. With the expenditure of millions of dollars, the Second Seminole War was the longest and costliest of all the Indian wars fought throughout the 19th century. Osceola was captured in 1837 and imprisoned at Fort Moultrie, in Charleston, South Carolina, where he died the following year. His Seminole warriors continued to fight until 1842 by which time they were all but eradicated. Most of those who did survive were moved west to Oklahoma while a few small bands remained on reservations scattered across the Everglades. The peace treaty ending the Second Seminole War was not formally signed until 1934.

This war did not, however, bring a final and lasting peace to Florida. The few remaining Seminole in Florida retaliated again when the American authorities continued to press for their final removal from Florida. Their hit and run raiding parties against settler communities resulted in a third and final war between 1855 and 1858 which left only a hand full of Seminole in Florida.

I was thinking about this mostly forgotten chapter of American and Floridian history as I wandered through the scrub land near Bushnell where Major Dade and his band of soldiers met a quick and unmerciful end. This is still cattle country, and herds of cracker cattle and Black Angus wander the Florida prairie here in central Florida. It is quiet and peaceful now and it is difficult to imagine what happened here on a quiet December morning in 1835. Or is it?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cracker Chidlings: Dispatches from the Sunshine State VIII

My first blog posting back on December 1, 2008 described a visit to Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s homestead at Cross Creek, Florida. I take every opportunity I can to return to that magical place and I can certainly understand how Rawlings fell in love with the area when she first visited in 1928. So it is not surprising that I headed down to the Creek, as Marjorie called it, a few days ago to wander through the pine hammocks with their saw grass, palms and palmettos; the stands of live oak draped in Spanish moss and kudzu; and the cypress swamps of the Big Scrub of north central Florida. This is where the northern temperate zone meets the semi tropics, part of this place the late Al Burt once described as the “Mullet Latitudes.” I understand why Rawlings, upon discovering the Creek, came here to stay.

Born in Washington, DC, in August 1896, Rawlings spent her early years in that city’s Brookland neighborhood, just over the line from where I presently reside in the Maryland suburbs. Her family also owned a small farm in Maryland where they spent weekends and summer vacations. She attended Washington’s public schools and graduated from Western High School in 1913. Her mother moved her and a young brother to Madison, Wisconsin where she began her studies as and English major, in 1914. Following graduation in 1918, she worked as a writer an editor in upstate New York and in Louisville, Kentucky. She visited Florida for the first time during the summer of 1928 and she was so impressed with the scrub land, the cattle ranches and the citrus groves of north central Florida that she purchased a small farm and grove in the hamlet of Cross Creek. She moved there in November of that year and for the rest of her life, until her untimely death in January 1953, she would call this area of north Florida her home. She is buried in a small, isolated cemetery in Island Grove, just a few miles from her farm at the Creek.

During her years in Florida she would write and publish her impressions of the landscape that surrounded her and the people she would come to call neighbors and friends. She often described her Florida as a new Eden. “This is the Florida, wild and natural . . . the invisible Florida,” she told an audience at Florida Southern College, my alma mater, in 1935. “Its beauty must be seen with the spiritual eye as well as the physical eye.” The first of these stories appeared as “Cracker Chidlings” in Scribner’s Magazine in February 1932. She continued to write about life at the Creek, and a decade after her arrival she would publish her classic novel The Yearling (1938).

On this recent trip I revisited Rawlings’ farm and wandered around the house and the various out buildings. There are still a few orange trees in the yard although most of the groves have gone back to the wild. There is her typewriter on the screened-in front porch where she did most of her writing. I can almost see her sitting there while Max Perkins, her editor at Scriber’s, sat nearby in his white suit and fedora sipping a martini. “The region is beautiful, but not pretty,” she wrote to Perkins shortly after he took her under his wing in 1931. “It is like a beautiful woman capable of deep evil and a great treachery. Back of the lushness is something stark and sinister.”

Just up the road from the farm is Cross Creek, which runs the short distance between Orange Lake and Lake Lochloosa. At present it is mostly dried up as the drought in central Florida continues. Cashing in on the popularity of Rawlings and her books, The Yearling restaurant first opened on the bank of the Creek in 1952 and continued to offer north central specialties until it closed its doors in 1991. It was here that I was first introduced to the local cuisine, my favorite being a generous serving of cooter (fresh water turtle found in the local creeks and ponds). We use to eat here frequently on our regular visits to nearby Gainesville and we were greatly saddened when it closed and fell into disrepair. On each return visit to the Creek I would drive by hoping to find it open. There were a couple ill-fated attempts to revive the place, but they never seemed to catch on. Thankfully it finally reopened for good a few years ago, serving lunch and dinner on Friday and during the weekend.

It was open when I passed by a few days ago and so I stopped in to check it out. I found it much as I remembered it. The menu is not extensive, but they serve what I came for. I feasted on a sampler of cracker offerings - frog legs, gator tail, fried green tomatoes, mushrooms and hushpuppies. All of this washed down with very cold beer. Despite the logo on the servers’ shirts urging one to “Eat Mo Cooter,” The Yearling only rarely serves this delicious swamp delicacy. My server claims it is still available but all of it is shipped to Japan where it brings top dollar. “We send them our fine cooter,” she told me under her breath. “All we get is that cheap plastic crap.” I was sorry I was not able to enjoy a fine piece of cooter pie.

After lunch I drove to Antioch Cemetery, a few miles east of the Creek near Island Grove. Here Marjorie is buried beside Norton Baskin, her beloved husband who survived her by 43 years (“A woman has got to love a bad man once or twice in her life, to be thankful for a good one.”), and near to still others, friends and neighbors whom she had described to one degree or another in her stories and novels. Baskin came up with a simple yet appropriate epitaph for his wife. “Through her writings she endeared herself to the people of the world.” It seems entirely appropriate that she rests in the sandy scrub land and near the people she loved so dearly.

This trip to the Creek will have to last me for awhile. We will soon be returning home to Maryland after several weeks enjoying our annual springtime hiatus here in the Sunshine State. The memories of this time will have to tide me over once I return to the city. “We cannot live without the earth or apart from it,” Marjorie wrote in The Yearling. “And something is shriveled in man’s heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.” Marjorie will keep me whole and full.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rattling the Stick: Dispatches from the Sunshine State VII

“Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket,” according to George Orwell. I am reminded of this as I drive along US Highway 19 through Pinellas and Pasco counties on the Florida Gulf Coast. I also recall the Baltimore bard Ogden Nash’s witty stanza from Songs on the Road (1941):

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all.

This stretch of highway, as it passes through St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, New Port Richey and a host of smaller communities, has got to be one of the ugliest clutter of strip malls, car dealerships, restaurants and fast food joints, liquor stores, trailer parks, pawn emporiums and t-shirt shops I have found anywhere in the United States. It has no soul whatsoever; nothing beckoning one to come here and stay. It is a road to be avoided at all costs yet a stream of traffic travels up and down it every day. Is there anything man can do to make this jumbled and muddled abysm of commerce even less inviting? Yes!

As one drives this route (and so many others throughout the state) one is confronted by a continuous phalanx of outdoor billboard signs. Here along US 19 they sing the praises of doctors who offer to lift your face, correct your sight, remove your ugly fat, and my personal favorite, provide you with a vasectomy without the use of knives or needles. Is this a great country or what? More often than not these offers are accompanied by the doctor’s smiling portrait and an 800 number and/or internet website. It is difficult to enjoy life as it is when there are all these constant reminders of how much better it can be. No thanks!

Add to this the numerous billboards advertising the friendly yet “aggressive” services of Florida’s ubiquitous personal injury attorneys who hope to cash in (“we only get paid if you get paid”) on what must be a growing problem here in the Sunshine State. One is left with the distinct impression that Floridians must be one of the most litigious populations in this country. Why else would one need so many attorneys? These guys must make a pretty good living. How else can they pay for all these billboards with their smiling faces (I thought they were aggressive?) and promises to fight for the rights of the little people?

Even in the unlikely event that all of these billboards somehow disappear, the chances of seeing any trees are negligible. This area of Florida has been pretty much paved over and the vegetation that has managed to survive is limited to a few scrubby bushes here and there and an occasional palmetto or palm tree reminding travelers that they are in Florida. Thankfully, as one leaves this urban blight behind, the billboards become fewer and farther between, and there are a few more trees, but one can never completely escape their clutches and promises of a better life.

Driving the highways and byways of rural Florida there are fewer billboards shilling for doctors and lawyers (they are still there, however), but now they tend to focus on retirement communities in Florida and beyond; antique stores purchasing and selling gold and silver; military surplus and guns; truck stops and “cheap” fuel, BBQ joints, and countless tourist traps selling citrus, t-shirts, fireworks, wind chimes, gator heads, jewelry, saltwater taffy, and souvenir bric-a-brac. There are billboards displaying American flags and “patriotic” encomiums while others offer Biblical passages and the promise of eternal salvation. There are even billboards advertising strip joints and “We Bare All.” You name it and you can probably find it on a Florida billboard.

Some rather strong storms swept across central Florida over the past week and one can see the evidence of their passing by the many downed trees and branches. Small planes were tossed about at local airports and roofs were torn from homes and other buildings. Trees and branches scattered about but nearby the billboards continue to stand unmolested. Not even Mother Nature can deliver us from this man-made scourge on the landscape. Frankly, I prefer trees.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Preserves Are For Preserving: Dispatches from the Sunshine State VI

I don’t usually return to a topic quite so quickly, but the great bison debate is still a hot issue here in central Florida. A few days ago I reported on this debate in general terms and noted that one of the main reasons given for removing or reducing the size of the small bison herd at the Paynes Prairie State Preserve near Gainesville was the issue of safety and liability should any of the bison get loose or endanger visitors to the preserve. This week The Gainesville Sun recalled two specific instances last year when male bison wandered off the preserve.

In the first incident last May, a male bison was reported wandering in an area very near the preserve’s northern boundary. Local law enforcement was alerted as were the State Fish and Wildlife authorities and the Florida Park Service. All responded with the intention of herding the vagabond bison back to the preserve, and if this failed, to tranquilize it to facilitate its return. Observing the bison moving in his general direction, the preserve’s manager fired his shotgun striking the bison squarely between the eyes. This was followed by two more shots to the side of the head. A state park police officer also fired several shotgun rounds at the beast before the manager finished it off with a shot to the head and one to the heart. So much for tranquilizing the poor critter who was probably more scared than any of its human pursuers. Reports indicate that the bison was unarmed.

A few days later a second male bison was spotted near a popular trail, part of which runs across preserve property. Authorities judged this bison to be “aggressive” although they provided no specific details as to who was threatened and why. The bison was cornered and shot several times with a shotgun and a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. A Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson later stated that “deadly force” is only used when an animal poses imminent danger to humans whether they are on the preserve or not. Of course, this makes sense. I am not certain, however, that either of these animals were a viable threat to anyone, and I don’t believe “He is coming your way” constitutes “imminent danger,” especially if you are armed with a shotgun or a semi-automatic rifle. I have encountered bison at very close range in Yellowstone National Park and never felt like I was threatened by the simple fact that they were nearby or moving in the same direction I was.

In both of these instances there appears to be no evidence of any attempt to tranquilize or otherwise subdue the two bison in question. Why not? The Paynes Prairie State Preserve was established to preserve and protect the natural environment and the animal and birds that call it home. Yet there are those who do not see it that way. No one can argue for the need to protect human life, and if an animal poses a theat and cannot be captured or subdued, it may be necessary to destroy the animal. But I do not sense that this was the case in the two incidents reported by The Gainesville Sun and described here. I think it is quite clear that there is no genuine concern for these animals among those who are duty-bound to protect them. Once again it proved too much trouble to handle this situation the right away. The State wants to reduce the herd and it has found a easy way to do it. If a bison wanders where it should not be (or where the State doesn’t want it to be), it becomes an imminent danger and is quickly dispatched.

Preserves are for preserving. This bison herd only numbers 60-70 animals and one would think the State could come up with a practical solution to the problem of bison wandering off the reservation. After all, Paynes Prairie is 22 thousand acres and there must be a area where the bison can roam and not pose a threat to anyone. I hope the State of Florida will make a more concerted effort to find a better solution to the problem. Killing animals does not seem like a good way to protect them.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Where The Buffalo Roam(ed)?: Dispatches from the Sunshine State V

Regular readers of this blog are already familiar with my interest in and love for the bison. There is a debate ongoing here in central Florida for almost three years that is beginning to heat up again. What shall be the fate of the roughly 60 American bison that currently graze on the 22,000 acre Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park south of Gainesville? The fate of the cracker horse population as well as that of the small shrub cattle are also in question. The concerns and question are basically the same for all involved, but permit me to focus on the fate of the bison herd.

The State of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is struggling with a new livestock management program for he preserve which calls for the removal of the male bison population, reducing the size of the herd to approximately a dozen females and guarantee that it would not grow any larger. There is also the question of inbreeding and the general health of the herd which was first introduced to the area in the mid 1970s. On top of this, there is concern that the current size of the herd is taxing the grazing land on the preserve and creating an ecological dilemma. Some state officials are worried that more time and money will be spent on livestock management rather than on the protection of the endangered natural resources. Moreover, there is the issue of liability and safety should a member of the herd escape from the preserve and create damage or injure someone (injury is also a concern on the preserve although there seems to be very limited human access to the herd). The remaining bison would be limited to a fenced paddock of approximately 150 acres near the visitors center.

Reduction of the herd was a concern for many who feared that the males would be sold and slaughtered for food although the State is not authorized to sell bison through the traditional channels. It has also stated that the male bison would be moved to another protected area in Florida with limited public access where they would be treated “humanely” (whatever that means). This guarantee does not mean that all will be permitted to live. Sterilization of the male bison (and male cracker horses) is also being considered as an option to removal although this would not reduce the size of the herd or address ecological concerns or the liability and safety issues. It seems to me that this is moving the problem in one area to another area without seeking a realistic and practical solution.

Some local members of the state legislature in Tallahassee have recently jumped on the bandwagon to oppose the reduction of the herd through removal from the preserve. They have offered legislation that will address the safety and liability concerns which appear to be the main sticking points in the debate. In my humble opinion, the American bison wandering the scrub land of Paynes Prairie are a natural resource that deserve protection.

Despite efforts to keep the herd intact, the State has ultimately decided that the male bison must be removed; although there is no practical plan in place as far as their fate is concerned. Removing them seems to me a simplistic solution to a complex problem. Let’s hope the herd will be permitted to thrive for many years to come through a well thought out and balanced livestock management. Attention should be paid to the herd’s best interest and I am still hopeful saner minds will prevail. I am afraid, however, that these bison may have lost their home and their freedom to roam.