In the Northern Everglades at Fisheating Creek, the US Dept. of Agriculture is cooperating with four local landowners to begin restoring the wild wetlands. Watershed easement acquisitions on over 20,000 acres of wetlands will be purchased so restoration work can begin. (Easements allow the government to work on the land without taking full ownership). The USDA’s Conservation Service will contribute $89 million dollars for the project.
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, “The Northern Everglades watershed is one of the last frontiers for large-scale land conservation in Florida, and USDA is proud to work with private landowners and state and local partners to protect this unique habitat.”
Restoring the land will improve water quality and habitats for wild animals. The project is good news for large mammals like the black bear and Florida panther, because they require large swaths of wild land. Florida panthers are endangered, with less than 100 of them left in the wild.
The South Florida Water Management District and The Nature Conservancy have collaborated with the USDA on the project. “This first step in protecting Fisheating Creek basin will also greatly contribute to restoring the entire Everglades system,” said Keith Fountain, The Nature Conservancy’s director of land acquisition.
In 1989, private owners tried to close Fisheating Creek to the public. Their action caused a great protest. By 1998 a judge ruled the area belonged to the people of Florida. Eventually over 18,000 acres of land was purchased to create a Wilderness Management Area. Fisheating Creek is just one part of the Northern Everglades, an area covering several million acres of wetlands. Four of Florida’s largest lakes are in the region. Lake Okeechobee, which is the largest freshwater lake in Florida, is 730 square miles. Fisheating Creek is the only naturally flowing tributary to the lake remaining.
Image Credit: Save Our Creeks