U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $100 million in financial assistance for Florida wetland restoration today, the largest amount of funding the state has received through the Wetland Restoration Project in a single year.
The funds will go toward acquiring easements from eligible landowners in four Florida counties, Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee — maintaining that land as agriculture and open space. The easements will form a conservation corridor from the Kissimmee River to Everglades National Park, and “assist with wetland restoration on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed,” according to a release sent out today.
The effort aims to reduce the amount of surface water leaving the land, and should ultimately lessen the concentration of nutrients reaching Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. Nutrients in Florida waterways are a major problem, and contribute to toxic algae growth and massive fish kills. The Everglades suffers from methylmercury poisoning.
“Agriculture plays an integral role in the restoration of wetlands in the Northern Everglades,” said Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam in a press release. “Agricultural lands have some of the greatest natural resources of any private lands in Florida. The open space allows them to protect ground and surface water 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.”