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New Headwaters Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area Will Help Sustain Ranching, Increase Hunting, Fishing Opportunities in Everglades

NWRA praises the establishment of a new refuge and conservation area in the Northern Everglades. | Carlton Ward

“The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area exemplifies how conservation should be done,” said Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “The partnership announced today by Secretary Salazar is landscape-scale, collaborative by design, resilient to the effects of climate change, and benefits sportsmen, ranchers, the U.S. military, 8 million South Florida water users, the charismatic wildlife of the Everglades, and visitors from around the world.”

Hirsche’s statement refers to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s announcement earlier today of the formal establishment of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in the northern Everglades, just south of Orlando. Secretary Salazar made the announcement at the Future Farmers of America leadership training center in Haines City, Florida. Hirsche and David Houghton, senior vice-president of Conservation programs for NWRA, attended the event.

The Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area will use a combination of conservation easements, that leaves land in private ownership and on the tax rolls, as well as some land acquisition. Lands acquired as part of the new national wildlife refuge will be eligible for hunting programs which the FWS will administer in partnership with the Florida Wildlife Commission through a unique state-federal partnership.

“The NWRA has supported the creation of the new Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in the Northern Everglades as part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative,” Hirsche said. “This Refuge and Conservation Area is a true partnership in action.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investments will complement outstanding work by the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program, the U.S. military’s base buffering program, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, State Parks and the Florida Department of Agriculture – as well as significant private investments by conservation groups like The Nature Conservancy and Audubon of Florida.

Areas identified for conservation. Click map for a larger version.

The Refuge and Conservation Area is a smart investment in Florida’s economy. Restoring natural wetlands and maintaining open lands north of Lake Okeechobee is by far the least costly method of storing water for South Florida. Ranching and agriculture in this region employs thousands of Floridians and contributes to our national food security. In addition, through use by sportsmen, birdwatchers and wildlife tourism, refuges and conservation areas generate an average of $4 to the local economy for every $1 invested. Finally, Avon Air Force Park provides significant positive impact to Florida’s economy while also preparing our nation’s men and women for perils overseas.

“This changes the argument about government,” said Hirsche. “It’s not about big government or small government, but good government that works for the American people. This new kind of refuge carefully looked at the issues of water, recreation, ranching, military and wildlife and strikes a balance for all.”

“While securing habitat for more than 30 threatened and endangered species, the new initiative also assures expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on future refuge lands and will help sustain Florida’s ranching economy,” Houghton said. “This refuge was born from a diverse partnership that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Florida, and numerous public agencies and private landowners.”

Hunting and fishing are considered priority public uses on national wildlife refuges, along with wildlife observation, photography, interpretation and education. In response to concerns voiced about public access for hunting and fishing, hunting programs on refuge lands will be co-managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as State Wildlife Management Areas, with particular interest in developing youth outdoor and sporting education programs.

“The Refuge System can now acquire land and conservation easements from willing sellers from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to Avon Air Force Park to create the new refuge,” Houghton said. This effort would complement and leverage a long-term investment in conserving ranchlands and restoring important wetlands in the Greater Everglades made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of Defense, the State of Florida, Florida landowners, and non-governmental organizations, he said.

“Secretary Salazar’s announcement establishes six focus areas where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now authorized to acquire up to 50,000 acres as national wildlife refuge lands,” Houghton said. It also allows the Service to acquire up to another 100,000 acres in conservation easements. The Service would only proceed with willing sellers inside the new boundary, and areas outside of the boundary would not be eligible for purchase by the Service.

Contact: David Houghton, (603) 831-0920, dhoughton@refugeassociation.org

Learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Everglades conservation program.

Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2012/01/new-headwaters-refuge/