* Obama administration says project has created 6,600 jobs
* It offers incentives to keep land in agricultural use
By Barbara Liston
KISSIMMEE, Fla., July 13 With Florida cattlemen
looking on, Obama administration officials announced o n F riday
the latest infusion of $80 million into an Everglades
restoration plan to buy development rights to farms and ranches
and improve water flow.
The administration says its three-year, multi-agency $1.5
billion investment in the project since 2009 has created 6,600
jobs. President Barack Obama has also requested $246 million for
"We're doing it to preserve the quality of the water and the
quantity of water so that agriculture will have the use of it
appropriately and the 8 million people in the region who rely on
it will continue to have clean water," U.S. Secretary of
Agriculture Tom Vilsack told Reuters.
Many cattlemen like Cary Lightsey, a sixth generation
rancher who manages 42,000 acres ( 17,000 hectares) n ear
Kissimmee, applaud the program which provides cash and tax
incentives to keep the land in agricultural use and preserve
"I would just rather die one day with respect, knowing I
saved the land for our family and for the state of Florida,"
He said he was the first rancher to place his land under a
conservation easement 25 years ago, ceding some of his rights to
Restoration of the Everglades, a major source of drinking
water for South Florida which was drained and polluted by
decades of mismanaged development, began in earnest in the
The $80 million in funding announced on Friday is part of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetlands Reserve Program
and will go toward restoring 23,000 acres (9 ,300 hectares) of
Friday's announcement "is another important step toward
restoring America's Everglades," said Eric Eikenberg, head of
the non-profit Everglades Foundation which seeks to restore and
protect the 2-million-acre (80 0,000-hectare) wet lands ecosystem.
"We are grateful to the Obama Administration and Florida
Gov. Rick Scott for their continuing effort to work together to
find the right solutions," he added in a statement.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency and state of
Florida are also in negotiations to settle two longstanding
federal lawsuits filed by conservationists and an American
Indian tribe contending that government stood by while the sugar
industry polluted the Everglades in violation of clean water
The settlement would commit Florida to funding about $890
million in restoration projects, according to The Miami Herald.
Conservationist Hilary Swain, executive director of the
Archbold Biological Station conservation center in Venus,
Florida, said the Obama administration funding helped fill a
void created when state conservation land programs dried up in
Much of the current funding targets the northern Everglades,
a swath through the interior of the state from the Kissimmee and
Disney World theme park area to Lake Okeechobee. The area is a
huge watershed feeding the lake and swamps.
Cattle ranching and agriculture are a $100 billion industry
in Florida. Swain said Florida ranching is focused on raising
and selling calves which is considered to have a relatively low
impact on the Everglades, and that the ranchers help provide
expert management of large areas of land.
Ranchers and conservationists have found common ground in
the fight to preserve land in natural or semi-natural states to
protect the Everglades, she added.
"We have more in common than we have to divide us, and we
focus on it," she said.
(Editing by David Adams and Mohammad Zargham)