Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $100 million in financial assistance to acquire permanent easements from eligible landowners in four counties and assist with wetland restoration on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed. The wetland restoration will reduce the amount of surface water leaving the land, slowing water runoff and the concentration of nutrients entering the public water management system and ultimately Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. This is the largest amount of funding Florida has ever received for projects in the same watershed through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) in a single year.
“Protecting and restoring the Northern Everglades is critical not just to Floridians, but to all Americans,” said Vilsack.
Vilsack also participated in a signing ceremony with A.J. Suarez of Hendry County Nursery Farms-a landowner who will benefit from the funding. Suarez signed an agreement with USDA to start the process to acquire the easement rights to 3,782 acres.
Under WRP, landowners sell development rights to land and place it in a conservation easement that permanently maintains that land as agriculture and open space. USDA plans to purchase these permanent easements from eligible private landowners and assist with wetland restoration in Glades, Hendry, Highlands, and Okeechobee Counties. The easements will contribute to the connection of public and private lands and help form a conservation corridor from the Kissimmee River to Everglades National Park.
“Agriculture plays an integral role in the restoration of wetlands in the Northern Everglades,” said FDACS Commissioner Adam Putnam. “Agricultural lands have some of the greatest natural resources of any private lands in Florida. The open space allows them to protect ground- and surfacewater resources and preserve critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, while remaining working agricultural lands. USDA’s commitment to the Wetlands Restoration Program (WRP) will enable Florida agriculture to continue its important efforts to enhance the natural resources of the Northern Everglades Watershed.”
USDA continues to demonstrate its commitment to restoring the Northern Everglades through increased financial and technical assistance to landowners. USDA has provided a total of $189 million in WRP funding during the past two fiscal years to help farmers protect and restore wetlands in the Northern Everglades. Last fiscal year, USDA obligated $89 million through WRP to acquire easements on almost 26,000 acres of land in the Fisheating Creek Watershed, located in remote Highlands County. Four landowners on five adjoining ranches enrolled the nearly 26,000 acres into the program, making it one of the largest contiguous easement acquisitions in WRP’s history. An additional 12,000 acres were acquired through WRP in other counties, bringing the total potential acres acquired since 2010 to more than 60,000.
For information visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.