Salazar Announces Initiative to Conserve Working Lands and Wildlife Habitat in the Everglades Headwaters

Process Marks New Approach to Land Conservation; Proposal Includes New Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area

Last edited 09/29/2021

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with private landowners, conservation groups and federal, tribal, state and local agencies to develop a new national wildlife refuge and conservation area to preserve the community's ranching heritage and conserve the headwaters and fish and wildlife of the Everglades.

“The Everglades rural working ranch landscapes are an important piece of our nation's history and economy, and this initiative would work to ensure that they remain vital for our future,” Secretary Salazar said. “The partnerships being formed would protect and improve water quality north of Lake Okeechobee, restore wetlands, and connect existing conservation lands and important wildlife corridors to support the greater Everglades restoration effort.”

The Service, along with its partners, is conducting a preliminary study to establish a new National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area of approximately 150,000 acres of important environmental and cultural landscapes in the Kissimmee River Valley south of Orlando. The proposed area includes 50,000 acres for potential purchase, and an additional 100,000 acres that could be protected through conservation easements and cooperative agreements, keeping the land in private ownership. The Service will only work with willing sellers to purchase land rights.

"This is an important first step aimed at preserving and protecting thousands of acres vital to the Everglades," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who joined Secretary Salazar in today's announcement. "Projects like this will ensure future generations will be able to benefit from and enjoy the River of Grass."

Salazar also announced that, as part of the ongoing community dialogue, the public will be invited to participate in a series of workshops on the proposal in January and February.

“This initiative will be rooted in partnership with the local communities from start to finish, and I look forward to hearing from those who value these landscapes for everything from recreation, to ranching, to seeking solitude” Salazar said. “This proposal should stand as a model for our 21st century approach to land conservation that is science-based, partner-driven, and takes into account working landscapes and entire ecosystems.”

“We have been working with various easement programs since 1990,” said Cary Lightsey of the Lightsey Cattle Company. “They all have been win-win situations and we have never looked back. It makes us feel good that we are providing green space and wildlife habitat for future generations. I appreciate this proposal. I don't see my grandchildren coming back and questioning why we preserved the landscape."

In addition to improving water quality, the proposed conservation area and refuge would protect important habitat for 88 federal and state listed species, including the Florida panther, Florida black bear, whooping crane, Everglade snail kite and the Eastern indigo snake. It will also link to approximately 690,000 acres of partner-conserved lands.

More than a dozen partners are working together through the Greater Everglades Partnership Initiative on the proposed refuge and conservation area including the following organizations: Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services; Florida Department of Environmental Protection; Florida Division of State Lands; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Osceola County Parks Division; South Florida Water Management District; National Wildlife Refuge Association; The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Air Force - Avon Park Air Force Range; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Natural Resource Conservation Service. Their efforts are part of a larger conservation effort across south-central Florida.

A final plan for the Everglades Headwaters proposal is expected by the end of this year. Learn more by visiting



Congressman Tom Rooney (FL-16)

“A partnership that allows valuable agricultural land to stay in production while creating a National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area is a strong concept and should be a model for others nationwide. This proposal is a win-win for Floridians, as it will protect Florida's unique wildlife while allowing our agriculture industry to continue to flourish. I am excited that much of the refuge and conservation area will be in my district.”

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam

"I look forward to working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their proposed wildlife refuge and conservation area in the Kissimmee River Valley. The purchase of property from willing landowners will enable Floridians to continue important agricultural production while protecting Florida's valuable wildlife for generations to come."

South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Vice Chairman Jerry Montgomery

“The South Florida Water Management District applauds Secretary Salazar and his staff for putting together a proposal as bold as the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. Combined with last year's federal investment to conserve 26,000 acres in the Northern Everglades, this effort builds on the momentum to deliver water quality improvements, water storage and environmental restoration benefiting all Floridians.”

The Nature Conservancy's Florida Director Jeff Danter

“The Nature Conservancy is honored to be a partner in this visionary endeavor and salutes the grand spirit of conservation embraced by the Obama administration today. The entire state and visitors from around the world will benefit from the foresight to keep these rare Florida habitats natural. We look forward to continuing our work in the Northern Everglades in support of the final protection of this new refuge.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto

“We are pleased to be a partner in this extensive conservation project that will not only provide critical habitat for our state's fish and wildlife, but will open new areas to the public for their recreational use.”

National Wildlife Refuge Association President Evan Hirsche

"The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge is an important initiative that will protect Florida's ranching way of life, help provide safe drinking water to millions of Floridians and conserve our nation's remarkable wildlife heritage. The National Wildlife Refuge Association is proud to have been a partner in this bold conservation plan, and applauds Secretary Interior Salazar and the Fish and Wildlife Service for taking this action to protect the Everglades. We look forward to working with many partners to help conserve this critical ecosystem for the people who depend on it and the wildlife that call the Everglades home."

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