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First Land Acquisitions Expected Soon, 2 Years After Everglades Headwaters Refuge Announced

Selbe B via Flickr

In the next few weeks environmentalists and federal leaders expect to announce the first land acquisitions for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. Plans for the refuge were unveiled two years ago, but so far all that exists is a 10-acre donation from The Nature Conservancy.

Plans call for a multi-million dollar refuge spanning 150,000 acres between Orlando and Lake Okeechobee.

Elizabeth Souheaver of the US Fish and Wildlife Service says less than $5 million have been appropriated, but the refuge always was envisioned as a long-term project."Within that specific region we have many conservation issues and needs with certain wildlife species like the Florida grasshopper sparrow and the Florida panther", Souheaver said.

It's also hoped the refuge will improve the quality of water flowing into the Everglades. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited the area last week. She says the US Fish and Wildlife Service will start buying land and conservation easements later this month. Jenny Conner Nelms of The Nature Conservancy says securing funding and working with landowners has taken time.

"They were really hoping to be able to announce something last week, and they just couldn't get it done in time", Conner Nelms said. "And the reason why is because there's a lot of little details that need to be worked out with the landowners and the conservation easements."

It will be Florida's first refuge constructed primarily of conservation easements. Landowners will retain ownership of their lands but the easements will protect them from future development. The first acquisitions are expected to be ranch lands in the Okeechobee area.