An early win in Audubon’s strategy for protecting Important Bird Areas as part of a new Atlantic Flyways strategy came about in the Greater Everglades this month.
On January 17, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the formation of the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, just north of Lake Okeechobee.
Secretary Salazar was joined in the announcement by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), a large group of Northern Everglades ranch owners, Audubon Florida Director of Advocacy Charles Lee, and Dr. Paul Gray, who leads Audubon’s science program in the Northern Everglades.
The 150,000-acre refuge will be put together with ranchland that supports a variety of wildlife (see Audubon Magazine, November-December 2011), including Florida Grasshopper Sparrows, Florida Scrub-Jays, Southern Bald Eagles, Audubon’s Crested Cara Cara, Florida Sandhill Cranes and many migratory birds.
This new National Wildlife Refuge is one of Audubon’s top priorities for Everglades restoration. Now that the Refuge and Conservation Area has been formally established, Audubon will support congressional National Action Needed to Revive the Economy and Tackle Climate Change January 2012 appropriations from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other sources to support purchase of easements and fee title.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also signed an agreement today assuming the responsibility of managing hunting and fishing on lands in the Refuge that are open to the public.
Audubon’s Charles Lee compared the event to President Harry Truman’s dedication of Everglades National Park in 1947, pointing out that there is a long road ahead in securing funding to complete the Refuge purchases.