NWRA Praises Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area Proposal

For Immediate Release: September 7, 2011

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

Washington, DC— The National Wildlife Refuge Association expressed strong support today for Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s proposal to establish a landscape-level conservation area in the Northern Everglades as part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. Outlining a collaborative approach to conserving Florida’s working ranchlands, protecting water quality and quantity in the Northern Everglades, and providing habitat for more than 30 threatened and endangered species, the new proposal thoughtfully reflects public comments and concerns.

“While securing habitat for Florida’s wildlife, the new proposal also assures expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on future refuge lands and will help sustain Florida’s ranching economy,” said David Houghton, Vice President for Conservation Programs at the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “This is an ambitious conservation proposal born out of a diverse partnership that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Florida, and numerous public agencies and private landowners.”

The Everglades Headwaters proposal would allow the National Wildlife Refuge System to acquire land and conservation easements from willing sellers in certain areas of the headwaters region, from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to Avon Air Force Park. 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 nongovernmental organizations.

Specifically, the proposal includes the establishment of six focus areas where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be authorized to acquire up to 50,000 acres as national wildlife refuge lands, and a larger Conservation Area within which the Service could acquire up to 100,000 acres of 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.

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.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to solicit public comment, followed by a second stage of refinement, which is again released for public comment. The Everglades Headwaters proposal is at this second stage and a six-week public comment period extends to October 24, 2011, after which the proposal will be revised and finalized.

The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge Association is to conserve America’s wildlife heritage for future generations through strategic programs that protect, enhance, and expand the National Wildlife Refuge System and the landscapes beyond its boundaries that secure its ecological integrity.

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