Federal officials with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, along with representatives of various conservancy groups, met in Orlando yesterday for a press conference on the future of Everglades protection.

The assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Audubon of Florida’s director of advocacy, and representatives of the Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Refuge Association announced the Department of Interior’s proposed plan for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge during the conference held at Disney’s Wilderness Preserve.

The plan would preserve as much as 150,000 acres through conservation easements and fee simple purchases (in which land is bought at fair market price and managed by a conservation organization or agency), depending upon the “characteristics of the affected lands and the preferences of cattle ranch landowners.” The proposal also seeks to launch restoration work to block canals and ditches and store additional water in the upper reaches of the Kissimmee watershed.

The funding of the proposal isn’t yet set in stone — which is typical of such projects, says Audubon of Florida’s Charles Lee. The acquisition of land for this kind of a proposal is funded by a stream of revenue from a couple of indepedent sources.

One is revenue from royalties of oil and gas leases maintained by the federal government, a fairly sizable amount of revenue, according to Lee: “For instance, if you have a company paying royalties on an oil or gas lease on the outer contineltal shelf, royalties on that would be paid and would go in to this fund. … That could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Those funds are subject to congressional appropriation.

Money for the project might also come from the sale of federal Duck Stamps. In order to legally hunt certain types of water foul, hunters must first purchase Duck Stamps. Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar generated by the sale of Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

“It’s pretty characteristic of all these types of proposals,” says Lee. “The first thing that happens is that Fish & Wildlife will conduct a process, and outline a proposed boundary of an area to be protected as a national wildlife refuge. It typically takes a period of a few years before all of the land transactions can be funded.”

Despite the fact that funding for the project remains in limbo, Lee says the agency has chosen the right lands, and that the proposal to acquire that territory through easements is a” very good approach” that “will reduce overall cost and allow money to be spread further, while allowing agriculture to remain in business in the area.”

Two public hearings to discuss the proposal will be held later this month.

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