The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Florida gets $100 million Wetlands Reserve Program aid

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $100 million in financial assistance to acquire permanent easements from eligible landowners in four Florida counties and assist with wetland restoration on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed.

The wetland restoration will reduce the amount of surface water leaving the land, slowing water runoff and the concentration of nutrients entering the public water management system and ultimately Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, Vilsack said. He noted that this is the largest amount of funding Florida has ever received for projects in the same watershed through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) in a single year.

Under WRP, landowners sell development rights and place their land 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 contribute to the connection of public and private lands and 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.

Both farm and environmental groups praised the commitment. The Environmental Defense Fund said that voluntary, incentive-based programs like the Wetlands Reserve Program are vital to engage private landowners in these initiatives.

It noted, however, that in June, despite the opposition of more than 50 agricultural and conservation groups, the House approved nearly $1 billion in cuts to USDA conservation programs, including the Wetlands Reserve Program, in the agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012.

The Senate is expected to develop its version of the appropriations bill this fall, and conservation groups are urging it to reject the House cuts, the group said.