FORT MYERS, FL – Friday, August 18, Congressman Tom Rooney (FL-17) and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue observed critical water quality and land conservation projects during a helicopter tour over South Florida and discussed the importance of reauthorizing these programs in the upcoming Farm Bill. These water and conservation projects help Florida’s farmers and ranchers coordinate with state and federal agencies to share in the stewardship of preserving and protecting the state’s natural beauty. The two were joined by Jim Strickland, owner of the Strickland Ranch, Vice Chairman of the Florida Conservation Group and a former president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association; Julie Morris, the Conservation Program Manager at the National Wildlife Refuge Association; and Russell Morgan, the Florida Conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Florida has one of the largest beef cattle operations in the country and we are fortunate that our cattlemen also play an integral role in the preservation of Florida’s natural and agricultural lands,” Rooney said. “Today, we saw how our ranchers are working with the state and federal government to contribute to overall ecosystem restoration and water quality efforts in South Florida. I am glad Secretary Perdue was able to learn firsthand how small investments by the USDA in these conservation easements help our state obtain rights to the lands needed for storage projects and conservation efforts. It was important for him to see the unique, functioning dynamic among farmers, ranchers and environmental groups in Florida who can work together toward a common goal.”
The tour, led by Jim Strickland, highlighted active water conservation projects and potential sites for future conservation easement projects. Most of these projects occupy land that was purchased through federal agricultural land easement programs administered by the USDA and other agencies. Ranchers and landowners who participate in these programs sell their land development rights to the government at a discount, which allows them to recoup some of the losses associated with keeping their land undeveloped in favor of helping with water conservation efforts. One such program, the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership, is a voluntary program authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill that allows eligible partners to carry out high-priority wetland protection, restoration, and enhancement to improve wildlife habitat.
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