Obama administration releases report on Everglade restoration efforts

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KISSIMMEE, FL., July 13, 2012 —The Obama Administration has released a report outlining the Federal investments and progress made in Everglades restoration. At the same time, the White House announced $80 million in additional funding to support farmers and ranchers who voluntarily conserve wetlands on agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed. This new investment, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), will restore an additional 23,000 acres of wetlands vital to water quality and wildlife habitat in the Everglades system.

The administration has invested $1.5 billion in Everglades projects and initiatives, including nearly $900 million to jump start key construction projects that will restore water flow and essential habitat. These projects already have generated 6,600 Florida jobs and are expected to generate more. President Obama also has requested an additional $246 million in the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget to build on this progress.

Senior Administration officials including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, U.S. Department of Interior Assistant Secretary Rachel Jacobson, and Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy released the report and made the funding announcement in Kissimmee, FL.

“The Everglades are an icon, an American treasure, and essential to the health and economy of Florida communities,” said Sutley. “With the President’s leadership, we are making real and measurable progress in Everglades restoration, dramatically increasing Federal funding, launching key construction projects, and working with the State and other partners to deliver results on the ground. There is much more to do, and we are committed to returning this majestic natural resource to health.”

Working in partnership with the State of Florida, Tribes and local leaders, since 2009, the program has restored more than 3,000 acres of the floodplains along the Kissimmee River; worked with landowners to improve habitat and water quality on more than 400,000 agricultural acres; begun constructing the first mile of bridging for the Tamiami Trail to restore water flow to Everglades National Park; begun implementing key components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to make more water available for environmental, urban and agricultural use; and reached an agreement with the State of Florida to make essential water quality improvements, including $879 million in state commitments for water quality projects.

Earlier this year, the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) established the 150,000-acre Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. Assistant Secretary Jacobson today announced that FWS has received $1.5 million in reprogrammed 2012 funding to begin securing additional conservation easements on priority parcels of some of the last remaining grass-land savannahs in the Northern Everglades – working with private land-owners to conserve the land, water and wildlife of the Everglades Headwaters.

USDA Wetlands Reserve Program

Since 2009, USDA has invested $373 million to restore and protect more than 95,000 acres of wetland habitat in Florida’s Northern Everglades. Through the WRP program, Florida’s private landowners voluntarily sell development rights to land and place it in a conservation easement that permanently maintains that land as agriculture and open space. The program’s goal is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program. The program also helps landowners to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection.

The $80 million announced today will fund projects such as an easement on a property known as American Prime, a key habitat corridor for the endangered Florida panther. USDA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in May 2012 that they have collaborated with private partners to protect this 1,278-acre piece of land in Glades County that is critical for panthers dispersing into habitat further north. A female panther and two kittens were recently photographed near this property -- the first documented evidence of a female Florida panther that far north since 1973.

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