Kanter Real Estate’s multi-year quest to drill for oil in the Everglades ended 15 January with a massive land deal in which the state agreed to purchase 20,000 acres of pristine swampland for environmental preservation. 

Sunset at Pa-Hay-Okee Overlook in the Everglades National Park.jpg
20,000 acres will be preserved ©Diana Robinson Photography/Getty Images

The historic deal is the largest such land buyout in over ten years, and will use funds from the Department of Environmental Protection or the South Florida Water Management District for the purchase. As part of the Water Conservation Area 3, the parcel will join over 500,000 acres reserved for conservation, water supply, and recreation in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Airboat tour takes a break in the Everglades National Park.jpg
It's hoped the deal will protect Florida's eco-system ©Mia2you/Shutterstock

In a statement released by the Sierra Club’s Everglades Restoration Organizing Representative, Diana Umpierre said, “we hope today’s announcement will be the beginning of meaningful action to acquire all the lands needed to restore and protect the Everglades. We also urge the Governor to take the next steps in addressing the causes of climate change that threaten the very existence of the Everglades."

The Everglades has a unique eco-system distinct from any other wetlands on earth, and according to the National Parks Service form the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. They are home to a number of endangered species, including Florida panthers, manatees, wood storks, sea turtles, and butterflies. Florida is also on the front line of climate change, and the state is already facing concerns over rising sea levels, more intense storms, and increased temperatures in recent years. 

The history of conservation in the Everglades

Early threats to the Everglades came from plume hunters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who killed millions of rare birds for the feathers used to decorate ladies’ hats. Later, rampant development in Florida decreased habitat and drained wetlands to “reclaim” tracts for farming, railroad construction, and the construction of new towns. 

Conservation efforts in the Everglades began in 1900, less than thirty years after the founding of the country’s first national park at Yellowstone, when the idea of setting land aside for preservation and recreation was still quite new and controversial. At first, it was a hard sell to convince the public that the Everglades were worth setting aside. 

A crocodile swims among water lilies in an Anhinga trail pond at the Everglades National park..jpg
The Everglades have a 100-year history of conservation efforts ©Alkhutov Dmitry/Shutterstock

The value of Florida real estate had grown immense, and the strange landscape the indigenous Seminole called pahokee, or ‘grassy water’ was nothing like the iconic, elemental western landscapes popularized by artists like Ansel Adams. However, by the late 1920s conservationists were successfully agitating for the formation of a Tropical Everglades National Park. 

One of those early supporters was a society writer originally from Minneapolis named Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who joined the board founded by landscape architect Ernest F. Coe. She was instrumental in swaying the public’s sympathies in favor of the Everglades, and Congress agreed to designate the Everglades as a national park in 1934. 

By 1947 the funds and land had been acquired to not only make Everglades National Park official but also the third-largest national park in the country. That same year, Douglas completed her groundbreaking study of the ecology, history, and beauty of the Everglades in a book titled River of Grass. Its publication concurrent with the park’s opening helped popularize the Everglades with Floridians and out of state visitors alike, as well as stoked support for similar conservation efforts nationwide. 

Just shy of thirty years after Everglades National Park was founded, UNESCO declared the Everglades & Dry Tortugas an official Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage site in 1979. Despite those protections and continued support of Everglades restoration by the state and federal governments, however, the Everglades fragile eco-system has continued to be threatened by development, pollution, and now climate change.

Related content: Why the wetlands of Florida's Everglades continue to be the most endangered site in the US

Egrets and herons are just some of the diverse species that call the Everglades home © Robert C Nunnington via Getty Images

The future of Everglades preservation

Although Everglades National Park encompasses 2410 square miles of delicate swampland, that’s less than a quarter of the ecosystem’s overall span. Deals like the 15 January acquisition from Kanter Real Estate help preserve even more of the Everglades for ecological restoration, even if they aren’t added to the National Park itself. 

Water Conservation Areas like the one to which the Kanter parcel will be added are used to collect water (including flood runoff) and funnel it away from urban areas and deeper into the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve. From there, the collected water contributes to the water cycle via evaporation and helps refill the underground Florida aquifer as moisture in the wetlands seeps through the state’s limestone bedrock. WCAs also provide important habitat for flora and fauna, and are popular with anglers and airboats.

The Kanter parcel is hardly the only piece of Florida property under consideration for oil drilling, however. Permits have been requested by other parties for drilling in areas near Big Cypress and the Apalachicola River basin. But for now, the acquisition of Everglades land by the state has given environmentalists reason to hope further protections could be around the corner.

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