FRESP: From Concept to Implementation

Pelicans.
© Linda McCarthy / Lykes Bros Inc

In 2003, WWF and six ranchers formed an ad hoc group to identify and explore together opportunities to recognize and enhance both the ecological value and the economic viability of cattle ranching, the dominant land use in the Northern Everglades region. The group decided to evaluate the potential for water management projects on ranchlands to provide water and phosphorus retention services in a cost-effective manner to help address the significant water quality and flow problems to Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

 

Cow in a wetland

The 2004 assessment, while demonstrating the potential of on-ranch water management and potential cost effectiveness when compared to other options, also identified a daunting list of program design challenges that would need to be addressed —some typical of payment for environmental services (PES) schemes in general and some specific to the Florida situation.

To address these program design challenges and provide proof of concept for an innovative market-like approach a coalition of ranchers, environmental organizations, research scientists, and state and federal agencies joined together to explore a PES option for addressing water related problems in the Northern Everglades. This area is in the northern part of the greater Everglades ecosystem that stretches from just south of Orlando all the way to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

The partners in the FRESP collaboration committed to work together to design and field test a market-like program that would pay ranchers in the Northern Everglades for water and nutrient retention services above and beyond regulatory requirements after providing required documentation of services. Acting as "environmental pioneers," eight ranchers in the Lake Okeechobee watershed entered into contracts to implement water management alternatives on their land and work with FRESP partners to identify and field-test key elements of a PES program. These elements included contract design, methods for estimating services, service verification, cost-effective program administration, and streamlined regulatory procedures.

Map of FRESP sites.

These demonstration projects proved that on-ranch water management feasible and a cost-effective way when compared to other options to improve water management and provide ranchers with a new source of income.

During the six-year pilot phase, the project raised more than $7 million from U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grants; the South Florida Water Management District; Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

The success of FRESP, now completed and being phased out, is reflected in the design and creation of the new Northern Everglades - Payment for Environmental Services (NE-PES) program, part of the newly created Dispersed Water Management Program of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

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