The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t said which 150,000 acres in Florida it wants for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge. The agency says the proposal will improve the quality and quantity of water and protect wildlife. Those opposed to the plan worry about public access to the land.
“These areas need to be open. They need to be open to recreations,” Jorge P. Gutierrez,president of the Everglades Coordinating Council,told the House Fisheries,Wildlife,Oceans and Insular Affairs subcommittee.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would purchase easements to protect 100,000 acres from future development. The land would remain privately owned. The agency would buy 50,000 acres to create a refuge open to visitors for recreational activities,including hunting and boating.
Some witnesses worried about not being able to hunt and boat on the 100,000 acres that would remain under private ownership.
“Air boaters are unique individuals,and we don’t really appreciate land being locked up,” Bishop Wright Jr.,president of the Florida Airboat Association,said. “There are no airboats for public use in refuges.”
Mark J. Masaus,deputy regional director for Region 4 of the Fish and Wildlife Service,said officials are meeting with hunters to hear their suggestions about the project.
Some committee members questioned how the proposal would be funded. The government plans to use money from offshore oil and gas revenues.
The project would take several years to complete and cost about $450,000 annually to maintain and operate.
Rep. John Fleming,R-La.,the subcommittee chairman,said it would cost $700 million to buy the easements and land,a figure others said was merely an estimate.
“What the service fails to tell the American people is how many thousands of new jobs will be lost by locking up this land to no development in the future,” Fleming said.
Reach reporter Pamela Engel at [email protected] or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.