The Obama Administration today released a report outlining the historic Federal investments and progress made in Everglades restoration under the leadership of President Obama, and announced $80 million in additional funding to support farmers and ranchers who voluntarily conserve wetlands on agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed. This new investment, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), will restore an additional 23,000 acres of wetlands vital to water quality and wildlife habitat in the Everglades system.
President Obama has made restoring the Everglades a national priority. Using the partnerships and community-led approach that is a hallmark of the President's America's Great Outdoors initiative, the Administration has reinvigorated Federal leadership in Everglades restoration, investing $1.5 billion in Everglades projects and initiatives that will make a measurable impact on the ground, including nearly $900 million to jump start key construction projects that will restore water flow and essential habitat. These projects already have generated 6,600 Florida jobs and are expected to generate more. President Obama also has requested an additional $246 million in the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget to build on this progress and continue the investments, partnerships and projects that will return the Everglades to health.
Senior Administration officials including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, U.S. Department of Interior Assistant Secretary Rachel Jacobson, and Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy released the report and made the funding announcement today in Kissimmee, FL.
"The Everglades are an icon, an American treasure, and essential to the health and economy of Florida communities," said Sutley. "With the President's leadership, we are making real and measurable progress in Everglades restoration, dramatically increasing Federal funding, launching key construction projects, and working with the State and other partners to deliver results on the ground. There is much more to do, and we are committed to returning this majestic natural resource to health."
"President Obama has made restoring the iconic Everglades a national priority," Vilsack said. "Restoring these wetlands demonstrates a strong commitment to partnerships with ranchers and farmers to improve water quality and habitat protection while supporting Florida's strong agricultural economy and ranching heritage. These investments are paying off, creating nearly 7,000 jobs in Florida's economy and preserving thousands of acres of precious wetlands for future generations to enjoy."
"The Everglades are one of America's most treasured places -- for the people of Florida and for visitors and tourists from all over the world," said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. "By working together in pursuit of President Obama's vision for a renewed and healthy Everglades, we honor the stewardship of generations of Florida cattle ranchers and other landowners who understood that we all have a stake in preserving the health of our land, water, and wildlife. Under the President's leadership, our commitment to restoring the Everglades is benefiting the environment and the Florida economy -- creating jobs, while protecting this unique place for years to come."
"The Everglades are essential to the environmental and economic strength of so many Florida communities. The health of this ecosystem affects everything from water quality and biodiversity to tourism, an industry that supports thousands of jobs across the state," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "The success we've already seen in restoring the land, water and wildlife of the Everglades shows how investments in America's extraordinary outdoors are also investments in our health and our economic future. Thanks to the additional funding announced today, we can expand our efforts to protect this vital watershed and build upon the progress that's already been made."
"In the last three years there has been unprecedented restoration progress in the Everglades," said Darcy. "President Obama has invested more than $130 million to restore flood plains and waters that flow from the Kissimmee River. The Kissimmee River restoration project is the largest restoration project undertaken by the Corps to date and the benefits are already being realized. Since 2009, the federal family and the State of Florida have invested in and broken ground on seven restoration projects. We have seized the opportunity for stakeholders to work together toward common goal of restoring the Everglades."
Working in partnership with the State of Florida, Tribes and local leaders, since 2009, the Administration has restored more than 3,000 acres of the floodplains along the Kissimmee River; worked with landowners to improve habitat and water quality on more than 400,000 agricultural acres; begun constructing the first mile of bridging for the Tamiami Trail to restore water flow to Everglades National Park; begun implementing key components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to make more water available for environmental, urban and agricultural use; and reached an historic agreement with the State of Florida to make essential water quality improvements, including $879 million in State commitments for water quality projects.
Today's investment in the WRP also builds on other significant Obama administration accomplishments to conserve habitat in the greater Everglades ecosystem. Earlier this year, the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) established the 150,000-acre Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. Assistant Secretary Jacobson today announced that FWS has received $1.5 million in reprogrammed 2012 funding to begin securing additional conservation easements on priority parcels of some of the last remaining grass-land savannahs in the Northern Everglades -- working with private land-owners to conserve the land, water and wildlife of the Everglades Headwaters.
More about USDA's Wetlands Reserve Program
Since 2009, USDA has invested $373 million to restore and protect more than 95,000 acres of wetland habitat in Florida's Northern Everglades. Through the WRP program, Florida's private landowners voluntarily sell development rights to land and place it in a conservation easement that permanently maintains that land as agriculture and open space. The program's goal is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program. The program also helps landowners to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection.
The $80 million announced today will fund projects such as an easement on a property known as American Prime, a key habitat corridor for the endangered Florida panther. USDA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in May 2012 that they have collaborated with private partners to protect this 1,278-acre piece of land in Glades County that is critical for panthers dispersing into habitat further north. A female panther and two kittens were recently photographed near this property -- the first documented evidence of a female Florida panther that far north since 1973.