I am in Florida today to announce an exciting initiative to conserve working lands and wildlife habitat in the Everglades headwaters.
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.
The partnerships being formed would protect and improve water quality north of Lake Okeechobee and restore wetlands which are so vital to the entire Florida economy. The proposed conservation area and refuge would also protect important habitat for 88 federal and state listed species, including the Florida panther, Florida black bear, whooping crane, and Everglade snail kite.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, along with its partners, is conducting a thorough, 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.
Much like the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area we established in 2010 to protect the tall grass prairies of Kansas, this conservation initiative represents a 21st century approach to land conservation that is science-based, partner-driven, and takes into account working landscapes and entire ecosystems.
We want everyone to be a part of the conversation and we will be holding public meetings throughout the spring to gather input from all stakeholders to ensure the best proposal for the community.
I look forward to working with our partners to conserve such important cultural and environmental landscapes in south-central Florida for future generations.