By Ken Warren, USFWS
Most associate the term "Lone Ranger" with a fictional crime-fighting, masked man in the Old West who wondered what Kemosabe really meant.
However, folks in the know about Florida panther conservation just might start associating the term with “Lone Ranger Forge,” a critical tract of land secured May 16, 2012, in efforts to build a natural migration corridor for Florida panthers and other wildlife.
About 60 Florida panther proponents gathered in LaBelle, Fla. May 16, 2013 at the Interagency Florida Panther Corridor and Wetlands Restoration Forum. They were there to celebrate American Wetlands Month and the first anniversary of when we joined with partners to acquire and protect the 1,278-acre tract, then known as “American Prime.”
With the Caloosahatchee River in the background, (from left) Connie Cassler, Larry Williams and Craig Aubrey of the South Florida Ecological Services Office take a break from touring Lone Ranger Forge to share a moment with Florida rancher, Dwayne House (second from left). Mr. House owns the protected property, which is a critical part of the natural corridor needed for Florida panthers and other wildlife. (Photo: USFWS)
Our primary partners on this momentous land deal were The Nature Conservancy, the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Walmart and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Lone Ranger Forge sits along the Caloosahatchee River in Glades County, Fla. on the northern edge of what’s known as the Florida Panther Dispersal Zone -- the area where these cats are most likely to travel through during northward migrations.
Dwayne House is a local rancher and owner of the adjacent Goodno Ranch.
“‘Lone Ranger’ is a name I chose for one of my private holdings and thought it was appropriate for this venture,” said House, adding that ‘forge’ denotes moving forward, crossing the river.
He’s utilizing the property in accordance with the conservation easements secured in the transaction. The Nature Conservancy and NRCS will manage the easements.
“You can be a rancher and not be a conservationist, but you can’t be a successful rancher without being a conservationist,” said House. “Ranching and conservation fit together like a hand in glove.”
The Nature Conservancy collected the funding from the various sources to buy the property. They also managed the transaction to closing and transferred the property to House. He also paid a portion of the costs to acquire the land as a holding under his company Lone Ranger LLC.
House will continue the rich ranching heritage of South Florida on much of the land and another portion will have its wetlands restored to enhance wildlife habitat. Imperiled species such as wood storks and Audubon's crested caracara stand to benefit.
Ken Warren is a Public Affairs Officer in the South Florida Ecological Services Office