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Newspaper Editorials Praising the Partnership


Wildlife refuge would benefit us all

Lakewalesnews.com - October 2, 2011- See article on lakewalesnews.com

This part of Florida was pioneered by ‘cow hunters’ who rounded up wild cattle in the Kissimmee Valley. Descended from Spanish herds of the 1600s, the long-horned scrub cattle were flushed from the scrub and driven across the state to Punta Rassa, on the Gulf Coast. There they were sold for gold coins, and shipped to the markets in Cuba.

The tradition changed only a little when the area was converted to large, fenced ranges and railroads offered ranchers a domestic market around 1900. Lake Kissimmee State Park, just east of Lake Wales, features an 1880s ‘cow camp’ complete with a ranger ‘cow hunter’ who will happily share his rustic lifestyle with visitors.

Ranching remains a significant, if threatened, occupation today.

Those citizens fortunate enough to have been around Florida for several decades are very aware of the tremendous population explosion and resultant development that has changed the state.
From about three million residents in the early 1960s, Florida boomed to about 19 million today. Both coasts were dramatically changed as small strands of scenic beach towns ballooned into burgeoning cities of towering oceanfront condominiums.

The interior of central Florida changed, too, as Disney and other attractions drew millions to our region. Desolate locations were converted into sprawling ‘planned communities.’ Some feature miles of streets, paved primarily for the dreams of developers rather than the sparse traffic they bear.

Florida will never be the same.

Opportunities to preserve and protect the traditional Florida lifestyle of ranching and farming are few. Most ranch owners would prefer to see their properties passed intact to new generations, without being forced to slice them into small parcels and sell them off. Now, however, some Florida ranchers have an opportunity to maintain their spreads as they exist today, and recover some of the investment they have in the land, thanks to the proposed North Everglades Watershed National Wildlife Refuge.

At a hearing conducted recently at South Florida Community College in Avon Park, several representatives of ranching interests spoke in favor of the proposed refuge. The proposal would give interested and willing sellers the right to sell their land’s development rights, and assure that they can keep the range in productive use for generations to come.

Preserving a traditional lifestyle and occupation is only a fringe benefit of the greater goal: protecting Florida’s wildlife, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, and the water supply for millions. The Refuge would protect the habitat of many rare or endangered species, including caracara, bald eagle, black bear and panther.

The lands would be managed for recreational uses, including hiking, birding, hunting, and fishing.

The North Everglades Watershed National Wildlife Refuge would serve as the companion to the existing Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, which was created to protect several extremely rare plant species from development.
Together the two refuges would also likely justify a new field office and staff, which could offer increased access to the protected lands. We look forward to the establishment of this new Refuge, and the many benefits it will provide for our citizens, and the future of Florida.


Kirk Fordham: Restoring the Everglades will boost the economy

News-Press.com - April 3, 2011- See article on news-press.com

One of the opportunities presented to policymakers as a result of Florida's shrinking revenues is that it forces us to consider what is really important to the citizens of our state. It offers us an opportunity to look clearly not just at the present, but several years into the future.

No one envies the arduous task facing Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature as they confront a series of budget challenges that will force them to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions.

But some things are simply sacred to Floridians - clean air, clean water, a healthy environment and all of the other natural wonders that make growing up here, or moving here, something special.

Florida voters overwhelming support continuing the work to restore the Everglades ecosystem and oppose efforts to further defund this initiative

Almost two-thirds of Florida voters said in a February Tarrance Group poll that restoring the Everglades is "extremely important" or "very important" to them personally. And 55 percent oppose the proposed cuts to investments in Everglades restoration.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, one in three Floridians depend directly on the Everglades for their daily supply of fresh water. Whether it is their drinking water or water to fill their swimming pools, irrigate their lawns or wash their cars, more than six million residents could not survive with this source of water.

Floridians also know Everglades restoration is good for business. Continuing work to restore the Everglades is, and will be for decades, an economic driver that creates jobs, enhances property values, boosts tourism and helps accommodate future population growth.

An in-depth study by Mather Economics for the Everglades Foundation found that the $11.5 billion cost to restore the Everglades ecosystem will result in an economic impact of at least $46.5 billion and potentially as much as $124 billion.

Gov. Scott and Florida's legislative leaders, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, have said that the No. 1 issue in Florida is job creation.

The Everglades Foundation agrees. The Mather Economics study found that restoring the Everglades will produce more than 440,000 jobs in the decades to come.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that an additional 22,000 jobs will be created, in the short term, on Everglades restoration construction work.

We are already seeing evidence of new job creation with work underway to build the Tamiami Trail bridges and other large-scale restoration projects.

Long after the first car drives over the first new bridge on Tamiami Trail, the economic impact will continue as Florida reaps the benefits of a renewed Everglades.

An example of the major impact of the state's investment is that as the health of Everglades ecosystem is restored, the purity of the water will significantly improve - water that is used to supply millions of homes and businesses on both coasts of our state. That means we can reduce the enormous cost of desalination - a cost that is passed on to taxpayers.

Clearly, Floridians get it. They understand that the Everglades ecosystem is vital to their future economic growth, the creation of jobs and the ability to keep Florida a special place to live and work.

In 2007, Florida invested $200 million in Everglades restoration. This year that figure dropped to $50 million - a 75 percent reduction. The proposed budget would reduce Everglades spending even further to a mere $17 million.

Business leaders throughout Florida see Everglades restoration in the same light as improving roads, waterways, port capacity, and other vital parts of our state's infrastructure.

They recognize that on our current course, millions of Floridians will continue to compete with agricultural and industrial users for an ever-shrinking supply of water.

If our leaders in Tallahassee intend to grow our economy, it will be impossible to accommodate that growth without continuing our state's investment in Everglades restoration.

- Kirk Fordham is CEO of the Everglades Foundation.


Proposed refuge for Central Florida wetlands needs input

TCPalm - February 5, 2011

Article by Ed Killer available only on TCPalm.com.



Interior smiles kindly on Florida
OUR OPINION: New refuge a boost for Everglades January 14, 2011

The Miami Herald - January 14, 2011 - See article on MiamiHerald.com

When Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came to South Florida for the annual Everglades Coalition Conference last week he brought a terrific gift along: A plan for a large national wildlife refuge north of Lake Okeechobee to preserve the ecologically diverse Florida prairie and livelihoods of the area's ranchers.

The refuge would extend through the Kissimmee River Valley down to Lake Okeechobee in parts of Polk, Osceola, Indian River, Okeechobee and Highlands counties. It will expand the scope and approach of Everglades restoration by protecting the Glades' original headwaters from Orlando's encroaching suburbs.

It's a bold plan that has vision -- but no money or congressional support yet. And that will be the biggest challenge, Mr. Salazar acknowledged. But he told the Everglades gathering that he's optimistic because, ``The Everglades are probably one of the most important ecosystems we have in the United States.''

The vast ecosystem is also the major drinking-water source for urban South Florida, so additional efforts -- like the refuge plan -- to enhance the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a joint state-federal project of ambitious proportions, are welcome.

What's different in the refuge plan is that the federal government, in addition to purchasing about 50,000 acres from willing sellers, will work with Florida ranchers to buy their development rights -- usually in the form of easements -- on another 100,000 acres. The ranchers stay in business, but by owning the development rights the federal government will prevent future sprawl oozing toward the Everglades. Florida's new agricultural commissioner, Adam Putnam, praised the plan during the conference.

The other big challenge besides getting Congress to fund the refuge is the bedeviling issue of reducing the amount of phosphorous flowing into Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades from the north -- from the farming industry and the Orlando area. Florida has spent more than $1.6 billion on pollution treatment marshes, but nutrient levels remain unsatisfactorily high.

There's less money for more land purchases for treatment marshes now, so the next step is to reduce phosphorous with a buffer of agricultural land where the nutrient is controlled by measures called ``best-management practices.'' For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to an $89 million deal to preserve almost 26,000 acres of ranch land. Ranch owners will keep operating but have agreed to protect the wetlands in the Fisheating Creek watershed, which feeds into Lake Okeechobee.

For his part, Mr. Salazar, a fifth-generation native of mountainous Colorado, appears to have taken to our flat River of Grass and its vast ecosystem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a part of Interior, has unveiled a plan to remove exotic predators from the Florida Keys national refuges. Nonnative species disrupt the food chain of the Keys' delicate ecosystem. Snakes, rats and feral cats will be trapped. Predators will be humanely euthanized, and the cats sent to an animal shelter for possible adoption.

Happily, Florida's unique ecosystems have found a good friend in Mr. Salazar. 


Article on MiamiHerald.com...



Everglades restoration: Last big piece is big lake

The Palm Beach Post - January 11, 2011 - See article on PalmBeachPost.com

Restoring the Everglades depends on cleaning up Lake Okeechobee. Last week, the federal government dealt itself into that game in a big way.

As the annual Everglades Coalition meeting began on Friday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Obama administration will create a roughly 240-square-mile preserve north of the big lake. The government will buy about one-third of the land outright and buy easements from landowners to cover the rest. The goal is to filter water before it reaches Lake Okeechobee, which for decades was a drainage pond for dairy farms and subdivisions.

Since the Everglades is at the end of the water system that begins where the government intends to establish the preserve, a successful plan would mean cleaner water for the Everglades. Saving what remains of the 

"River of Grass" depends on reducing pollution to levels that don't harm wildlife and delivering more water at key times. Draining and taming the Everglades disrupted that water flow.

Audubon of Florida's Julie Hill-Gabriel, national co-chairwoman of the Everglades Coalition, said in an interview that this preserve may be the first of three on the lake's north and northwest sides. All would be designed to store and treat water and to connect wildlife habitat, which the coalition listed as a priority for 2011. "There's really a bigger vision here," Ms. Gabriel-Hill said. If the cooperation among federal agencies continues, she added, "We could be on our way."

Under the original Everglades restoration plan, the state had to pay for all land purchases. Under President Bush, though, federal money didn't come, so under Gov. Jeb Bush the South Florida Water Management District bought some land. So this trade-off is fair. Though the effort is federal, Gov. Scott can be helpful. The governor didn't get to the coalition meeting, but state Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, spoke. She was on the Scott transition team, and is a former water district board member.

As the Everglades Foundation has argued, with research to back up the claim, restoring the Everglades is an investment, not a cost. Florida can preserve a World Heritage site and help the state's economy. For that, everyone needs to think as big as possible.

- Randy Schultz,
for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board


Article on PalmBeachPost.com...



Our take on: Everglades restoration

Orlando Sentinel - January 11, 2010 - See article on OrlandoSentinel.com

A rescue attempt

The Obama administration's looking to improve on the federal government's awful record restoring the Everglades, proposing a $700 million program to protect 150,000 acres north of Lake Okeechobee, now producing runoff that flows south to the River of Grass.

The federal government would buy 50,000 acres for a refuge roughly in the Kissimmee River Valley. Another 100,000 acres there, much of it ranch land, would be conserved but remain in private hands, possibly with some Florida funding.

It's refreshing to see the feds make a splash: Despite an agreement in 2000 to split the restoration costs with Florida, the state's contribution has far outpaced Washington's.

Still, it's premature to fully embrace or to get too excited about the administration's effort. Its impact on the Everglades isn't clear, partly because the land buys' exact locations aren't known. And the Rick Scott administration in Tallahassee, and the cash-poor Legislature, might not help fund it.

The proposal's intriguing, however. And, as its details become known, it deserves the full consideration of Florida's policy makers.


Article on OrlandoSentinel.com...

Last updated: February 3, 2012