As part of President Obamas Americas Great Outdoors initiative, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Jan. 18 accepted the first donation of land in southcentral Florida to establish the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Areaconserving one of the last remaining grassland and longleaf pine savanna landscapes in eastern North America.
The new refuge and conservation areathe 556th unit of the National Wildlife Refuge Systemis being established with the support of local ranchers, farmers and landowners. They are working cooperatively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve the wildlife values on their lands while retaining their right to raise livestock or crops, an approach championed by the Obama administration.
If fully realized, the refuge and conservation area will span 150,000 acres north of Lake Okeechobee. Twothirds of the acreage, or 100,000 acres, will be protected through conservation easements purchased from willing sellers.
With easements, private landowners retain ownership of their land, as well as the ability to continue farming or ranching the land. The easements would ensure the land could not be subdivided or developed.
This is an outstanding example of the 21st century approach to conservation envisioned by President Obama when he unveiled his Americas Great Outdoors initiative last year, Salazar said at the time of the announcement. Working in close partnership with landowners, we are taking a major step to safeguard the longterm health of the Everglades in the Kissimmee Valley, while ensuring the areas ranching and farming heritage and economy remain strong. Just as we have done in Kansas, Montana and the Dakotas, our locally driven, cooperative approach to conserving the Everglades Headwaters will help grow a robust outdoor recreation economy for central Florida, while preserving ranchers rights to live off the land.
The Service is working with ranchers and other private landowners, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other state agencies, conservation organizations, users groups, Native American tribes and federal agencies in creating the new refuge and conservation area.
We are inspired by the excellent conservation opportunities that exist here as a result of the efforts of our ranching community to protect working lands across generations, said Service Director Dan Ashe. The extraordinary vision of our many partners will help protect significant wildlife species while supporting a way of life that is vital to our citizens. This effort will restore wetlands in the headwaters area, preserve working ranches, and support a healthy environment for central and south Florida, as well as increase opportunities to hunt, fish, hike, birdwatch and learn about the importance of this landscape.
The establishment of the new refuge and conservation area is one of a series of conservation projects under the Obama administration that works locally and collaboratively to conserve vital habitat on working landscapes. These include:
Lightsey Ranch in Florida is within the acquisition boundary of Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.
Credit: Carlton Ward Jr./CarltonWard.
- The millionacre Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area in Kansasthe first new unit of the Refuge System authorized under the Obama administration, which will help maintain the integrity of tallgrass prairie wildlife habitat, stream water quality and the agricultural heritage of the Flint Hills.
- The Dakota Grassland Conservation Area, which will conserve prairie landscapes, wildlife resources and working lands in the Prairie Pothole Region, an area that supports more than half of the nations migratory waterfowl.
- The successful communitybased conservation initiatives taking place in the Crown of the Continent, a vast and intact landscape that includes portions of northwestern Montana as well as British Columbia and Alberta.
The Everglades, which receives water from the Kissimmee River Valley, will benefit from the conservation and restoration of its headwaters through enhanced water quality, quantity and storage. Additional details about the Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area are at http://www.fws.gov/southeast/evergladesheadwaters/.