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Public Has Three More Days to Comment on Possible New Wildlife Refuge

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended the public comment period for a proposal to turn 150,000 acres of savanna ranch land north of Lake Okeechobee into the "Headwaters of the Everglades National Wildlife Refuge." The acquisition would cost $700 million, and around a third of the land would remain open to ranching.

The grassland around the Kissimmee River, which feeds into Lake Okeechobee and eventually the Everglades, has long been fertile ground for hunting and ranching, even after dredging projects in the '60s and '70s turned it into a straight, lifeless canal. In the early '90s, Congress approved a plan to fill in a large portion of the canal and bring the river back to its rambling roots.

Anyway, the grassland around the river is a topic of hot debate.

Plans to create the wildlife refuge have drawn strong opposition from those calling it "another government land grab," according to the St. Pete Times, which counted 600 people at one hearing.

As the National Park Service mulls what to do with the Big Cypress Addition Lands closer to home, this project's approval would signal a shift in attitudes toward conservation (or at least planned management).

But Matt Schwartz of South Florida Wildlands Association, which filed a lawsuit this month against the Park Service for trying to allow off-road vehicles in the Addition Lands, says some of the money for the new acquisition could be better spent on other projects.

Like, for example, an effort to establish Florida panther refuges given the fact that Florida Power & Light is planning to build a large, fossil-fueled power plant smack in the middle of active panther territory.

People wishing to comment on the possible new Headwaters of the Everglades refuge, pro or con, can email EvergladesHeadwatersProposal@fws.gov, including their name and address. Comment closes this Friday, November 25.

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