Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Friday announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with private landowners, conservation groups and federal, tribal, state and local agencies to develop a new national wildlife refuge and conservation area to conserve the headwaters and fish and wildlife of the Everglades.
The Service, along with its partners, is conducting a preliminary study
to establish a new National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area of
approximately 150,000 acres of important environmental and cultural
landscapes in the Kissimmee River Valley south of Orlando. The proposed
area includes 50,000 acres for potential purchase, and an additional
100,000 acres that could be protected through conservation easements and
cooperative agreements, keeping the land in private ownership.
“The Everglades rural working ranch landscapes are an important piece of our nation’s history and economy, and this initiative would work to ensure that they remain vital for our future,” Secretary Salazar said. “The partnerships being formed would protect and improve water quality north of Lake Okeechobee, restore wetlands, and connect existing conservation lands and important wildlife corridors to support the greater Everglades restoration effort.”
In addition to improving water quality, the proposed conservation area
and refuge would protect important habitat for 88 federal and state
listed species, including the Florida panther, Florida black bear,
whooping crane, Everglade snail kite and the Eastern indigo snake. It
will also link to approximately 690,000 acres of partner-conserved
"This is an important first step aimed at preserving and protecting thousands of acres vital to the Everglades," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who joined Secretary Salazar in today’s announcement. "Projects like this will ensure future generations will be able to benefit from and enjoy the River of Grass."
Salazar also announced that, as part of the ongoing community dialogue, the public will be invited to participate in a series of workshops on the proposal in January and February.
More than a dozen partners are working together through the Greater Everglades Partnership Initiative on the proposed refuge and conservation area including the following organizations: Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services; Florida Department of Environmental Protection; Florida Division of State Lands; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Osceola County Parks Division; South Florida Water Management District; National Wildlife Refuge Association; The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Air Force – Avon Park Air Force Range; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Natural Resource Conservation Service.
A final plan for the Everglades Headwaters proposal is expected by the end of this year. Additional information is available at the link below.