The Nature Conservancy assisted this morning’s authorization of the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe by donating land to facilitate the legal establishment of the new refuge and conservation area.
“We believe so strongly in the incredible value of this refuge and conservation area for people, wildlife and the ranching and agricultural communities of the Northern Everglades, crucial today and long into the future, that we donated part of our nearby Hatchineha Ranch so that the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge & Conservation Area could not only be authorized here but established today as well,” said Nature Conservancy Chief Operating Officer Brian McPeek at the announcement ceremony near Haines City.
The Nature Conservancy has worked in close partnership with the Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Department of Defense, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Northern Everglades agricultural and ranching communities, sportsmen, and private landowners in the effort to establish the refuge and conservation area. It is a key part of its Northern Everglades Initiative, a vision of interconnected conservation sites protecting critical water and habitat resources for people and an amazing diversity of plants and animal in the headwaters of the Everglades. For more than 20 years, the Conservancy has partnered with these key stakeholders toward this goal.
The Conservancy is also supporting today’s release of the final Land Protection Plan/ Environmental Assessment for the refuge and conservation area. It is being released by the USFWS to authorize the new refuge and conservation area after a rigorous public scoping and public comment period on this document, with significant changes made to the proposal to incorporate the Conservancy’s and others’ comments.
The Conservancy also thanks the USFWS and the FFWCC for their efforts to develop a joint MOU in partnership with the sportsmen community aimed at balancing resource management with recreational access within this conservation landscape.
Hatchineha Ranch is a key part of a chain of private lands and public conservation lands stretching down the west side of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to the Avon Park Air Force Range. The Conservancy’s 2008 alliance with the previous owner that preferred conservation to development will allow for the protection of the most important conservation values of the 5,134-acre Hatchineha Ranch. The ranch contains imperiled natural communities and species, and provides for animal movement through the upper Kissimmee River basin.
For years, public agencies had hoped to acquire the Hatchineha Ranch through public land acquisition programs.
“We are protecting imperiled lands in the absence of public funding by using a strategy that includes mitigation banking and conservation banking,” said Rebecca Perry, the Conservancy’s Florida land protection manager. “We are in the process of reversing impacts from years of fire suppression and wetland drainage to restore Hatchineha Ranch as successfully as we restored the former Walker Ranch that is now our Disney Wilderness Preserve, and hope much of this ranch can be part of the refuge and conservation area in the future.”
Restored wetlands in the Everglades headwaters hold critical freshwater on the land rather than that water – containing high nutrient levels - draining rapidly through ditches, canals and streams into Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. This benefits both south Florida’s productive estuaries, which are stressed by seasonal pulses of freshwater and associated nutrients, and our wetland systems, which now are often dry – depriving both wildlife and people of critical water.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.