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Kate Boulos is one of two Levy County residents to receive a County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship (CARES) award this year for the work she’s done in managing Watermelon Pond Plantation.
Driving around the plantation in her truck with her English Setter, Busy, and three grandchildren of a family friend — who helps her with chores around the property — Boulos pointed out the many forms of plants and wildlife that call Watermelon Pond home. The beautiful 680-acre plantation is teaming with life, from the days-old English Pointer puppies, owls and hawks flying overhead, to the slowly restoring pond area stocked with bass and other fish. There are food pots and nesting boxes scattered throughout the property.
“I just do that for the love of the land. And the animals. It’s not a money-making thing,” Boulos said of her wildlife conservation efforts, with an easy manner and mellow southern drawl. She trains dogs for a living. She said she was surprised to have received the award as she thought it was for farmers.
But Boulos’ efforts fall within the parameters of the program.
Her focus is the re-establishment of native game bird species, specifically bobwhite quail, mourning doves and Osceola turkeys. She said that many people have the misconception that managing game species means you go around killing, but assisting these populations is mutually beneficial to other native and endangered species such as indigo snakes and tortoises. Boulos also works toward wildlife habitat improvement through sand hill restoration, which involves prescribed burning and planting long leaf pine (by hand) and wire grass and also removing undesirable species that are non-native invasives.
Boulos explained that this is where other organizations come in to assist. Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists came out and helped her draw up a plan for the property and what would be of the most benefit to wildlife in the area. She said the state Department of Forestry will assist with prescribed burns. There are also a couple of orphaned baby deer on the property under the care of the Florida Wildlife Care Center in Gainesville.
The motivation for much of Boulos’ efforts, she said, is from a desire to see quail populations back where they should be. Boulos’ beating heart reaches beyond the wildlife she strives to protect and youngsters she mentors. Once a year, the plantation donates a Wheelin’ Sportsman Osceola Turkey hunt for handicapped individuals.
Thirteen total CARES awards were given to people from around the state through this program created by the Florida Farm Bureau in cooperation with other agencies, such as the Univeristy of Florida's IFAS, the state Department of Agriculture and the Suwannee River Management District. The awards are given to farmers and ranchers who voluntarily implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) often with the assistance of outside agencies. Boulos has been using BMPs on the plantation property since 2001.