Conservation in the Everglades
Southern Florida’s unparalleled landscape is home to a mosaic of ecosystems that provide habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile and Florida panther. The Everglades are home to the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere as well as a network of other ecosystems, including wet prairies, sawgrass marshes, swamps and hardwood hammocks stretching from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Not only do the Everglades provide critical habitat for wildlife but they serve as the primary source of drinking water for more than 7 million Americans, more than a third of Florida’s population.
But the Everglades face a number of challenges, including urban development, agriculture and invasive species. NRCS is working with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in the Everglades region to restore and protect the landscape.
What Conservation Efforts Are Underway in the Everglades?
Through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to landowners to restore and protect wetlands through permanent and 30-year conservation easements. Florida’s easement program is one of the largest in the nation with more than 200,000 acres restored and protected.
In 2009, NRCS ramped up its easement efforts in the Everglades region, restoring and protecting more than 72,000 acres through wetland easements from 2009 to 2011. The agency built on that investment, launching a three-year targeted effort in 2012, called the Everglades Initiative, to further protection of wetlands, improve water quality, conserve water through better irrigation water management, control invasive plants, improve grazing operations and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. This three-year effort restored and protected more than 37,200 acres through wetland easements.
Additionally, through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), NRCS is helping landowners control invasive weeds through brush management, herbaceous weed control, prescribed grazing systems and prescribed burning.
Noxious and invasive plants degrade native ecosystems, making them unsuitable to wildlife. EQIP also helps landowners implement conservation systems that protect water quality and quantity through the application of nutrient management and improved irrigation systems. From 2012 to 2014, NRCS worked with producers in the Everglades, make conservation improvements to more than 173,000 acres.
How Do These Conservation Efforts Benefit Producers?
Improvements made to the land through these programs help agricultural operations by improving soil health and lowering input costs. Plus, through easements, landowners receive assistance with wetland restorations costs as well as payment for acquiring the easement, keeping the land in its natural condition.
How Do These Conservation Efforts Benefit the Public?
Conservation work helps clean and conserve water, enhance habitat and control invasive weeds. Restored wetlands store and filter water, protecting again flooding and the runoff of nutrients into Lake Okeechobee and other waterways.
A foundation of partners from non-profit and private organizations, local, state and federal governments and individuals across the nation augment funding sources and provide support.
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