July 13, 2012– Kissimmee, FL The National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) praised Department of Agriculture and Interior Secretaries Vilsack and Salazar for their announcement today directing more than $80 million toward purchasing conservation easements in the recently-established Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.
“Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Salazar have been consistent champions of Everglades restoration and there is no better way to demonstrate their commitment than by providing funds that will help accomplish results on the ground,” said David Houghton, Executive Vice-President of the NWRA. “Today’s announcement shows how federal agencies can work together to focus resources on important places and provide opportunities for private landowners to conserve their land for public benefit. Florida ranchers, farmers, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts have all made it clear that protecting the Northern Everglades for future generations is a top priority in the state.”
The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area exemplifies a collaborative approach to conservation that relies on cooperation among many public agencies and private landowners. Conservation easements offer protection for wildlife and water resources, while allowing land to stay in private ownership and on the tax rolls. Today’s announced funding will help support wetlands restoration and habitat management that will to increase Central Florida’s resilience to the effects of climate change, while benefiting sportsmen, ranchers, 8 million South Florida water users, the charismatic wildlife of the Everglades, and visitors from around the world.
Secretary Salazar’s announcement of $1.5 million to support land conservation at the Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area marks the first new appropriation of funds dedicated to the refuge. With this funding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to proceed with its first acquisitions of land and conservation easements. Lands that become part of the national wildlife refuge will be accessible for hunting programs which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will administer in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission through a unique state-federal partnership.
The Administration also announced the beginning of a public dialogue and planning process to explore the creation of two additional collaborative conservation areas in the Fisheating Creek watershed and including a network of lands reaching toward the existing Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. As in the Everglades Headwaters region, the new conservation areas would be pursued as public-private partnerships that strike a balance for wildlife, ranching, economic development, water management, and recreation.
The three Northern Everglades Conservation Areas are also 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. Learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Everglades conservation program