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The Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Project

Over the past century, areas of the Everglades have been repeatedly drained to allow for urban and agricultural development across south Florida. These developments changed the hydrology of the Everglades ecosystem, degraded water quality and wildlife habitat, and created excessive water runoff into Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries. Federal, state, and local agencies have pursued an array of regulations and best management practices—and have made significant public investments in infrastructure—to try to mitigate environmental damages, but water flow management and nutrient loading continue to be major challenges.

Map of Northern Everglades

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Against this backdrop, a disparate group of stakeholders came together and concluded that a complementary, market-like payment for environmental services approach could be beneficial.

Designing and Implementing a Payment for Environmental Services Program in the Northern Everglades

The Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Project (FRESP) was a collaborative process that was able to build trust among cattle ranchers, government agencies and environmental NGOs. The project's goal was to design a payment for environmental services program in which willing ranch owner "sellers" could enter into contracts with state agency "buyers" to provide water retention and nutrient load reduction services above and beyond regulatory requirements. These services are critical to improving environmental conditions in Lake Okeechobee and the nearby estuaries, as well as contributing to greater Everglades' restoration. Building trust among diverse stakeholders was essential to reaching agreement on answers to the complex program design questions.

Through FRESP, eight pilot water management projects were implemented on cattle ranches. FRESP also developed the cost-effective methods needed to document that services were being provided, as a condition of receiving payment. Existing regulations had to be adapted for this contract-based program, and the FRESP partners developed innovative contract elements that made possible the current Northern Everglades Payment for Environmental Services Program.

In January 2011, the South Florida Water Management District issued its first solicitation for proposals under the Northern Everglades Payment for Environmental Services Program. As a result, the district entered into eight 10-year contracts with ranchers. A second solicitation was made in 2013. 

Moving from Concept to Implementation: The Emergence of the Northern Everglades Payment for Environmental Services Program

A two-part case study of FRESP was published in the National Wetlands Newsletter:

Learn more at