Buck Island Ranch (BIR) is one of eight participating ranches in the Florida Ranchlands for Environmental Services Project (FRESP), a project initiated in 2005 by World Wildlife Fund, ranchers, researchers, and state and federal agency partners. Driven by the desire to restore the ecosystems of the Florida Everglades and still retain Florida’s vibrant agricultural industry, FRESP aimed to design a payment for ecosystem services (PES) program that fosters on-ranch water management practices that are both economically viable and compatible with ecosystem restoration.
Agricultural, Ecological and Regulatory Context
Ecological restoration and agriculture are two of the most prominent issues in Florida. One of the core tenets of FRESP is that ranching and Greater Everglades restoration can be mutually compatible.
The particular ecological problem that FRESP aims to address is the quality, quantity, and timing of water flows in the Northern Everglades and more specifically, the Lake Okeechobee watershed. Under current management practices, excess water on farms, ranches, and developed areas is pumped into estuaries during the wet season, disrupting their salinity levels and overloading them with pollutants.
With a new focus on Everglades restoration, there is a 5 generally recognized need for additional water retention and filtration capacity in natural areas to regulate flows and reduce nutrient loading. FRESP addresses this need by developing a program in which ranchers are paid to retain and filter water flowing through their pastures.
Scaling-up: Challenges and Opportunities
The experiences thus far with alternative water management on BIR and the other FRESP pilot ranches indicate that the project has been a success.
The feedback from the ranchers has also been positive. Two of the eight ranchers have placed portions of their land under permanent conservation easement through the Wetland Reserve Program. All of the remaining ranchers have expressed strong interest in continuing with the scaled-up PES program. In general, attitudes toward FRESP are positive among both the participating ranchers and the ranching community more broadly.
FRESP has also addressed many of the issues that caused past PES programs to fail. These include the identification of dedicated buyers and sellers with genuine incentives to participate, a streamlined process for regulatory compliance, technical feasibility, administrative feasibility, and accepted procedures for service potential estimation.
FRESP is further refining feasible processes for administration and monitoring. Some challenges do remain, such as establishing a cost-effective way to monitor service.