The Obama Administration today included the Everglades when it announced a focus on protecting big, iconic landscapes that connect Americans to the outdoors, a focus The Nature Conservancy welcomes wholeheartedly.
President Barack Obama spoke at the Great Outdoors America conference this morning, a conference the likes of which has not been seen in the last 100 years, he said. He stated that conservation is consistent with economic well being and that he wants to “enrich” the legacy of President Teddy Roosevelt, who began the movement to protect the country’s iconic places.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said one of several listening sessions around the country to touch base with people already bonded with the land will occur in Florida and focus on the Northern Everglades. The Nature Conservancy has helped protect 1.2 million acres in Florida, including 355,000 acres in the Everglades, and is currently working with partners on several Northern Everglades projects that would result in more than 150,000 acres being conserved.
“We are excited to learn there will be a listening session in Florida and look forward to the discussion of how protecting the Northern Everglades working lands fit into the administration’s priorities,” said Jeff Danter, The Nature Conservancy’s director in Florida.
The vast region of wilderness and working ranches called the Northern Everglades is such a place. Extending some 170 miles from the outskirts of Orlando to the Big Cypress Preserve is one of the great grassland and savanna landscapes of eastern North America. Still largely rural, the 4-million-acre watershed sustains one of the most important assemblages of imperiled vertebrate wildlife in the southeast and a large portion of the natural habitat remaining in peninsular Florida, including globally rare habits.
“Credit the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service with recognizing years ago the need to protect these large swaths of open land and wetlands in a fast-growing state like Florida and making possible today’s news,” said Danter.
“There is a unique opportunity right now to conserve wildlife, wetlands and water in the greater Everglades ecosystem and at the same time sustain Florida’s ranching culture. Protecting Florida’s working lands provides huge conservation benefits, and by using conservation easements we can leverage dollars and keep management in the hands of our best stewards, Florida ranchers,” he said.
“We are counting on the full support of Florida’s congressional delegation and look forward to working with them to secure funding for these conservation priorities in Florida,” said Danter. “We thank Sen. Nelson for hosting the Florida congressional delegation for a Northern Everglades briefing last month in D.C.”
Dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, through a bill currently under consideration in Congress (S. 2747 by Senators Jeff Bingaman and Max Baucus), will be essential in order to realize what is possible in this area, Danter said. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has only received a small portion of its fully authorized amount over the last several years. Danter urges the Florida congressional delegation to support this legislation.
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.