Last Friday, US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar proposed an expansion to the scope of Everglades restoration by announcing the creation of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. The refuge would protect a large portion of land south of Orlando to the north end of Lake Okeechobee, protecting our great lake from further pollution.
Audubon has long advocated for additional measures to help property owners manage their land for the benefit of water and wildlife. Our leadership in the creation of the state program called the Rural and Family Lands Protection Act helped create a new form of easement for working lands. That program - pioneered in Florida - has now caught federal attention and there may be an upcoming opportunity to obtain federal farm bill funds to help underwrite easements on thousands of acres of working ranches in the Everglades system. From a wildlife perspective, this should help habitat for Snail Kites, Crested Caracara, Sandhill Cranes and Grasshopper Sparrows.
The creation of a third refuge located between the already established Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in the Southwest and the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge is a future goal - to create a corridor for species such as the endangered Florida Panther to roam freely across a large portion of the state.