At a meeting of the Friends of Paynes Prairie in September, 2010, David Dowers of the Florida Parks Service provided details of a plan to reduce the number of bison, cracker horses, and cracker cattle in the park. Part of the plan would have some of the bison in a fenced grazing area near the visitor center instead roaming throughout the park. It was not a popular plan with some local residents and petitions were circulated that opposed the reduction of the bison herd and other facets of the plan.
About 100 people attended a public meeting in November, 2010, and expressed their opposition and concerns about the proposed plan. Some thought that enclosing the bison was more like a zoo than a preserve. A member of the board of directors of the Friends of Paynes Prairie recognized the problems in managing herds of animals but thought the proposed plan was “too Disneyfied.”
The Departmental of Environmental Protection has now released its proposal for the Paynes Prairie livestock. The proposed plan will let the horses and bison continue to roam the park, but will attempt to limit the population of the herds.This is the proposal for the cattle, horses, and bison:
- The 40 to 50 head in the cracker cattle herd will remain pastured at the Hickory Ranch where they are now. There will be an effort to create viewing opportunities for park visitors.
- The cracker horse population will be stabilized at the current level of 16 to 30 animals. The animals roaming the prairie will be non-breeding females that have been given a contraceptive vaccine, or geldings. Additional females will be bred at Hickory Ranch as needed to maintain the population.
- The current herd of 50 to 70 bison will be rounded up, reduced to 30 and released to the prairie basin. Most will be females that have been given a contraceptive vaccine, but some might be sterilized bull calves. The population of the herd will be monitored and possibly replenished with young females from other herds.
The complete document is available in this pdf file at the Environmental Protection web site.