David “Lefty” Durando was born on the edge of Florida’s Everglades in Hialeah, Florida. He grew up with a love for agriculture and Florida’s natural environment. He began working as a cowboy while a teenager and began professional bull riding at age 19. He won multiple championships across the country over a period of 18 years. In the late 1970’s he turned to his true passion, and became a full-time cattle rancher. For the last 40 years he has been cattle ranching across Florida; today he and his family have cattle ranches spanning 20,000 acres.
He has combined his love of ranching with his love for Florida’s wildlife; the Durando Family Ranches are managed for native wildlife and contain high quality habitat that is dedicated towards that purpose. Lefty is an active participant in numerous state and federal programs to manage his ranches for native ecosystems and various listed and other focal species that depend on them. His ranch in Okeechobee County is part of an essential network of wildlife corridors in Florida and provides habitat for listed species including the Florida panther, Audubon’s caracara, wood stork, Everglades snail kite, gopher tortoise, and is being managed to restore habitat for the most endangered bird in the United States, the Florida grasshopper sparrow.
He was instrumental in establishing the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge in 2012, and has been active in lobbying on a federal and state level for conservation easement funding for the Northern Everglades. He works closely with federal and state government agencies in developing landowner incentive programs for wildlife management. He is currently a Board Member for Partners for Conservation, a national landowner-led organization that promotes conservation incentive programs and stronger relationships between landowners and government agencies.
Jim has six decades of ranching experience and comes from a family that has been ranching in Florida since the Civil War. Jim grew up ranching with his father along the west coast of Florida. When his father died in the 1960’s Jim took over the family cattle operations at the age of 17, primarily leasing land for cattle. His passion for conservation began at a young age, as increasing development pushed him farther and farther inland. Jim is the owner of Strickland Ranch and managing partner of Big Red Cattle Company and Blackbeard’s Ranch, Ranch, a 4,530 acre cow/calf operation that borders Myakka State Park and contains slough systems that feed the Myakka River and drinking water downstream. He is pursuing state and federal conservation easements on Blackbeard’s Ranch and is involved in local food initiatives. Jim’s goal is to develop Blackbeard’s as a model for sustainable agriculture and conservation.
Jim is a leader in the local food movement. His beef is sold at the award -winning Ulele Restaurant, and the ranch also supplies wildflower honey to Ulele Spring Brewery. He’s also one of 13 owners of Florida Cattle Ranchers Inc. a Fresh from Florida company that produces local beef for Florida.
Jim is a passionate advocate for Florida agriculture and conservation, and is a spokesperson for ranchers across the state on the need for conservation funding to protect Florida. He served as president of the FL Cattleman’s Association, past chairman of the FL Cattleman’s Foundation, chairman of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association PAC and he currently sits on the board of the Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park, Archbold Biological Station and numerous other agricultural committees. Jim’s son, J.J. Strickland and daughter in law Sara reside in Washington D.C.
Julie holds the position of Florida and Gulf Programs Manager for the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Julie has over 20 years’ experience working in the conservation field. Julie has a wide breadth of experience and knowledge, from working as a wildlife biologist and land manager to land protection implementation and advocating for land conservation funding and programs.
Julie works with all levels of governmental agencies and private entities to: develop conservation plans for protected wildlife species, identify conservation lands and protection strategies; conservation lands design, management and policy, community education and outreach and stakeholder coordination. Her passion is assisting landowners in protecting their natural and agricultural lands; she has extensive knowledge and experience in land acquisition and easement programs, and other conservation incentive programs that can assist landowners and achieve conservation goals. Julie holds a Master’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida.