As part of President Obama's strong support for the restoration of the Florida Everglades, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today toured the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and met with stakeholders to discuss ongoing efforts to restore the critical ecosystem.
"This has been a banner year for conservation under the leadership of President Obama as we have made tremendous strides in restoring and repairing the Everglades," said Salazar. "From unprecedented efforts to conserve the headwaters to working across the federal family with our key partners, we are moving forward with our long-standing goal of restoring this national crown jewel."
Salazar highlighted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has received $1.5 million in 2012 funding to begin securing additional conservation easements from willing private landowners for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. This funding will support up to 750 acres of parcels that are key priorities for the 150,000-acre conservation area to protect some of the last remaining grass-land savannahs in the Northern Everglades.
"The Headwaters conservation area is about honoring the stewardship of generations of Florida cattle ranchers and other landowners who understand that we all have a stake in preserving the health of our land, water, and wildlife," said Salazar. "I'm pleased to announce this additional funding so we can continue our commitment to restoring the Everglades and benefiting Florida's economy."
During an airboat tour of the refuge, Salazar saw first-hand how restoration efforts will benefit the refuge, where nearly 20% of the habitat has already been altered and degraded through the delivery of water that is too high in nutrients. A significant amount of the $880 million water quality agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Florida is expected to fund the expansion of storm water treatment areas, a flow equalization basin, and other projects that will benefit Loxahatchee and the Everglades as a whole.
During his visit, Salazar highlighted a number of areas where the administration has worked with the State of Florida, members of Congress and many other partners to move restoration forward, including:
Congressional authorization for an additional 5.5 miles of bridging on the Tamiami Trail;
Acquisition of thousands of acres of easements in the Northern Everglades through the U.S. Agriculture Department's wetlands reserve program to protect habitat for key species, including the endangered Florida Panther;
Banning the Burmese Python and 3 other large constrictor snakes from importation and interstate commerce, thus shutting off the source of supply;
Establishment of key partnerships, like those with the Miami Dade Limestone Products Association, to build Everglades projects like the recently completed seepage management project on the eastern boundary of Everglades National Park.
An on-going commitment to control invasive species, including $1.25 million from the American Reinvestment Recovery Act to control more than 9,000 acres of melaleuca on the refuge.
Salazar emphasized that stakeholders must continue to be vigilant in pushing restoration efforts forward, especially through the ongoing Central Everglades Planning Process, which is a fast-track planning process for the next suite of Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects that will restore more natural water flow to the remaining natural Everglades.
He also cited the need to secure authorizations for key projects to restore the quantity, timing and distribution of freshwater for the Everglades. These include the C-111 spreader canal project to restore water flows to Florida Bay and habitat within Everglades National Park; the Broward County Water Preserve Areas project to reduce harmful storm water discharges to the Everglades; the C-43 project that will improve freshwater deliveries to the Caloosahatchee estuary, including the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge; and the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands project to restore Biscayne Bay and the resources of Biscayne National Park.
"The Everglades deliver important benefits to Florida --supporting various essential needs from tourism and recreation, to agriculture and coastal fisheries, to habitat and drinking water," said Salazar. "The President recognizes a successful Everglades is a successful Florida, and the entire administration is committed to protecting this national treasure."
Created in 1951, the 147,392-acre Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge includes the northernmost portion of the Everglades. With over 221 square miles of Everglades habitat, the Loxahatchee is home to the American alligator and the critically endangered Everglade snail kite. In any given year, as many as 257 species of birds may use the Refuge's diverse wetland habitats. The Refuge is located about 10 miles west of Boynton Beach, Fla.