USDA Announces Major Wetland Restoration Project in the Northern Everglades Watershed
ORLANDO, July 19, 2010 - Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced a major wetland restoration project in Florida's Fisheating Creek, part of the Northern Everglades Watershed. USDA, in partnership with four landowners on five ranches and local and non-governmental organizations, will create one of the largest contiguous easement acquisitions in the history of the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).
"The Northern Everglades watershed is one of the last frontiers for large‐scale land conservation in Florida, and USDA is proud to work with private landowners and state and local partners to protect this unique habitat," Merrigan said. "The enrollment of these five properties in the Wetlands Reserve Program will result in significant wetland restoration and protection, and provide important habitat for rare, endangered and threatened animals, birds and plants."
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide $89 million through the WRP to acquire easements on almost 26,000 acres of land in the Fisheating Creek Watershed, located in remote Highlands County, about 130 miles south of Orlando. Once the land is restored, it will enhance and improve wetlands, wildlife habitat and the quality of the water draining into the Everglades. Merrigan toured the Fisheating Creek Watershed via helicopter and later announced the project at an event here today.
Contiguous natural areas along the region's creeks and rivers, on cattle ranches and existing conservation lands provide the large open spaces, food resources and connectivity needed to sustain wide‐ranging animals like the Florida black bear, whooping crane and the Florida panther. NRCS already has other WRP projects in this sub-basin and this project will help connect the open spaces, sustain the biological diversity of the landscape, and restore the natural hydrology.
This land can support numerous rare and federally endangered and threatened species, such as the crested caracara, Florida panther, and the red-cockaded woodpecker. At least two rare federal candidate plant species, cutthroat grass and Edison's ascyrum, are also known to occur on the five ranches.
The Nature Conservancy and the South Florida Water Management District partnered with NRCS on this project. The two partners will assist NRCS with easement acquisitions and wetland restoration planning and monitoring.
WRP, a voluntary program, provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring eligible land from agriculture. This program offers landowners an opportunity to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection. The NRCS goal is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program.
NRCS is celebrating 75 years of helping people help the land. Since 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and private landowners delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests.
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