Florida officials welcome announcement of $100 million to help Everglades

Aug 12, 2011

The following article was published in the Florida Current on August 11, 2011:

Florida officials welcome announcement of $100 million to help Everglades

By Bruce Ritchie 

Florida officials on Thursday welcomed an announcement by U. S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the federal government will provide $100 million to preserve lands in four Florida counties for Everglades protection.

The money will be used to purchase conservation easements and restore wetlands on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the northern Everglades watershed north of Lake Okeechobee. Earlier this year, the Interior Department announced it was studying 150,000 acres in the region for possible purchase.

“Agriculture plays an integral role in the restoration of wetlands in the Northern Everglades,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a statement. “Agricultural lands have some of the greatest natural resources of any private lands in Florida.”

In January, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that his agency is studying 150,000 acres in the northern Everglades headwaters for a possible new national wildlife refuge. The area includes 50,000 acres of potential purchase and 100,000 acres of possible conservation easements, which involve paying private landowners to conserve their land.

U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson sent a letter to Vilsack and Salazar praising the announcement Thursday and reminding them of a meeting he had with them in May to discuss the northern Everglades.

“As we discussed some months ago, conserving land to the north of the Everglades is vitally important to the restoration effort that is finally underway at this World Heritage site,” Nelson wrote. “Today’s announcement is another signal that the administration is fully behind restoration of the River of Grass.”

The $100 million from the USDA will go towards landowner conservation easements in Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee Counties, Putnam’s office said. The easements will connect public and private conservation lands from the Kissimmee River to Everglades National Park.

On Thursday, Vilsack participated in a signing ceremony with landowner A.J. Suarez of Hendry County Nursery Farms to start the process to acquire the easement rights to 3,782 acres. 

“Protecting and restoring the Northern Everglades is critical not just to Floridians, but to all Americans,” Vilsack said.

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