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Haaland touts Everglades restoration during Florida visit

Cutline: Haaland took part in an airboat tour of the Everglades during a visit to Florida for the Everglades Coalition conference. (@SecDebHaaland)

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) used a visit to South Florida Jan. 28 to give an update on the federal “America the Beautiful” initiative at the Everglades Coalition conference held in Coral Springs.

The initiative, which began in 2021, includes a 10-year strategy for locally led and voluntary efforts to restore and conserve America’s lands, waters and wildlife.

“Thank you for welcoming me to the ancestral lands of the Miccosukee and Seminole nations,” Haaland said during a keynote speech. “The Everglades is the cornerstone of survival for the people, plants and animals who call it home. Restoration of this habitat and others like it is crucial to the fight against the climate crisis.”

Seminole Tribe Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr., Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie, Tribal Court Associate Justice Joe Frank and Miccosukee Tribe Chairman Talbert Cypress attended Haaland’s keynote. Several conference attendees were Seminole and Miccosukee tribal members and tribal employees.

The “America the Beautiful” initiative is an effort that includes the Interior, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and state agriculture and commerce departments. The goal is to “conserve, connect and restore” 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030.

The Biden administration’s “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” includes $1.1 billion to protect critical ecosystems, including the Everglades, from the effects of climate change. The Interior called the funding a “once-in-a-generation investment to address climate change and tackle the biodiversity crisis by restoring ecosystems and watersheds.”

The DeSantis administration has invested more than $3.3 billion to restore the Everglades and bolster Florida’s water resources since 2019. In January, he renewed the commitment through an executive order proposing an additional $3.5 billion investment toward continued restorative and protective efforts over the next four years. His office has called it the “highest level of funding” for such efforts “in Florida’s history.”

“Everglades restoration is important to our tribal people because the Everglades was and is our home,” Councilwoman Billie said the day before attending the conference. “For hundreds of years, the Everglades took care of the Seminole and Miccosukee people so I believe it’s important for tribal citizens to voice their concerns as well as share our Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) to help ensure that efforts to make amends to the land is conducted in an appropriate and respectful manner.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said during the conference that it is planning to construct a reservoir north of Lake Okeechobee to provide more water storage.

Jennifer Reynolds, with the South Florida Water Management District, said the Corps is focused on all aspects of water storage – from storing water on farmlands to building aquifer storage and recovery plants.

“That means they’re planning for a reservoir north of the lake,” Reynolds told an audience at the conference Jan. 27. “The funding is there, the commitment is there. How do we work with (non-governmental organizations), the tribes and the public?”

The Everglades Coalition is an alliance of almost 60 local, state and national conservation and environmental organizations dedicated to the greater Everglades ecosystem. This year’s conference – “A Watershed Moment for America’s Everglades” – ran from Jan. 26-28 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs Hotel & Convention Center. More is at

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at