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Intertribal Timber Council tours Big Cypress

BIG CYPRESS — A group of 167 attendees at the National Indian Timber Symposium, hosted by the Intertribal Council, took an educational field trip to Big Cypress on June 12 where they learned about the Tribe’s cattle program and native area management practices. (See related story)

The group also toured Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, Billie Swamp Safari and enjoyed an alligator wrestling show as they dined al fresco at the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena grounds.

Natural Resource Director Alex Johns met the group at the cow pens and gave a brief outline of the Tribe’s history with cattle starting with the Spaniards in the 1500s.

“The state was the first to have cattle,” Johns said. “Our ancestors met Ponce de Leon.”

During the Seminole Wars, as the Tribe was fighting for their lives, they lost their cattle. In the 1920s they moved back to Big Cypress and collected their cows only to be stymied by barbed wire which was installed throughout the state in the 1940s. Johns said they used to push cattle from coast to coast with no problem. That all changed with the fences and then again with extension agents once the reservations were established.

Jonah Cypress, Alex Johns, Josh Simmons, Yankton Sioux of the BIA in Boise Idaho and Grant Steelman discuss cattle and wildland fire management during the Intertribal Timber Council’s visit to Big Cypress on June 12. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“They showed us the modern cattle business and field rotations,” Johns said.

The Tribe established a cattle council, which was the model for the constitution in 1957.

“Cows helped us get federal recognition,” Johns said. “We built fences, irrigation systems, changed breeds and were the first large scale ranch to adopt an electronic identification system.”

The group went to the Jones Grade Road and Cowbone Island area where Tony Curella and Michael Lightsey talked to them about how they use the swamp buggies and other equipment for wild fire suppression.

The wildland fire department manages approximately 52,000 acres in Brighton and 35,000 acres in Big Cypress.
They also explained that some areas are burned more frequently than others for cultural reasons. However, if those more dense areas burn they will burn hotter and destroy more trees.

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at