Vilsack also participated in a signing ceremony with A.J. Suarez of Hendry County Nursery Farms—a landowner who will benefit from the funding. Suarez signed an agreement with USDA to start the process to acquire the easement rights to 3,782 acres. After the signing ceremony, Vilsack toured the 550-acre Winding Waters Natural Area, a site restored with $1.5 million from WRP in 2007. The nature area, owned by Palm Beach County, is home to bird species such as little blue heron, snowy egret and great egret, white ibis and Florida sandhill crane. It also contains large areas of pine flatwoods, Cyprus forests, freshwater marshes and wet prairies.
Under WRP, landowners sell development rights to land and place it in a conservation easement that permanently maintains that land as agriculture and open space. USDA plans to purchase these permanent easements from eligible private landowners and assist with wetland restoration in Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee Counties. The easements will help form a conservation corridor from the Kissimmee River to Everglades National Park.
USDA has provided a total of $189 million in WRP funding during the past two fiscal years to help farmers protect and restore wetlands in the Northern Everglades. Last fiscal year, USDA obligated $89 million through WRP to acquire easements on almost 26,000 acres of land in the Fisheating Creek Watershed, located in remote Highlands County. Four landowners on five adjoining ranches enrolled the nearly 26,000 acres into the program, making it one of the largest contiguous easement acquisitions in WRP’s history. An additional 12,000 acres were acquired through WRP in other counties, bringing the total potential acres acquired since 2010 to more than 60,000.
For information about WRP, please visit www.nrcs.usda.gov. Click on Programs and Services on the left side of the page. Click on Alphabetical Listing of Programs and scroll down to the Wetlands Reserve Program.
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