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Central Florida’s cattle country would be preserved in new national wildlife refuge

Cattle at Lightsey ranch by Carlton Ward Jr./CarltonWard.com

Cattle at Lightsey ranch west of Lake Kissimmee. Photo by Carlton Ward Jr./CarltonWard.com

 

 

Between the two big Os in Florida — Lake Okeechobee and Orlando — there’s a land where cattle roam, bald eagles soar and water begins its vast flow into the Everglades.

This land holds the key to saving the Everglades, according to scientists, and now a federal plan to create a national wildlife refuge here is up for consideration.

Called the Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge, it would preserve 150,000 acres and cost at least $600 million, according to the proposal.

The unusual twist in this plan, however, is that it relies on the cooperation of the region’s vast cattle ranches. Instead of buying the land outright, the majority of Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge would remain in the hands of ranchers, who would sign easements.

Two public hearings on the Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge are scheduled:

  • Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, 1 to 5 p.m. , South Florida Community College Theatre for the Performing Arts,600 W. College Drive,  Avon Park, FL 33825
  • Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, 1 to 5 p.m., Osceola Heritage Park, Exhibition Building-Hall A, 1901 Chief Osceola Trail, Kissimmee, FL 34744.

The Audubon Society, one of many environmental groups supporting the Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge, is urging citizens to write during the comments period.

Here’s a map of the proposed refuge.

Audubon Society’s Charles Lee said this land is special for many reasons.

“This is the stronghold within in the United States of the bald eagle.” Lee said in a recent interview with the Weather Channel. “Within this area, we have the most concentrated bald eagle population anywhere in the United States.”

The Orlando Sentinel’s editorial page supported the Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge plan,  saying it “should protect much of the state’s drinking water by helping check or reduce the pollutants that otherwise would make their way to the Everglades.”

Many coastal residents don’t realize how different — and beautiful — the prairie and cattle country of Central Florida is.

If you want to get a taste of it, there are several excellent state parks in the region. If the Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge is created, it would wrap around or come close to these parks:

Towns near the refuge would include Sebring, Avon Park and Lakes Wales.

More resources:

Listen to an interesting report from National Public Radio on the Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge.

An excellent introduction to the Northern Everglades is available from a series of 3-minute videos being created as part of the making of an hour-long documentary.

You can see the first installment here; the opening video captures the wild beauty of the place.

 

 

 

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