New Interior Secretary Sally Jewell took an airboat ride through the Everglades In Palm Beach County on Wednesday during one of her first official trips as leader of the agency responsible for national parks and other public lands, highlighting the importance of a massive wetlands restoration project.
Jewell is an experienced mountaineer, but she didn’t get much above sea level in an airboat cutting through the sawgrass in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. She also planned an 8-mile hike through Everglades National Park.
Briefly stopping in a still patch of water under darkening rain clouds, Jewell said she has a lot to learn about the Everglades, particularly about invasive species, such as the Burmese python, that plague native wildlife. She defended the billions of dollars that have been directed to restoration projects, even though progress has been slow.
“If you do it right, as I think this Everglades restoration plan is doing, you’re involving all three: you’re taking care of the people, you’re taking care of the plants and animals, and you’re taking care of the resource for many generations forward,” Jewell said.
Congress approved the sweeping Everglades plan in 2000, but major components such as an $81 million bridge have languished through funding and legal challenges. The bridge along Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade County is intended to increase water flow into Everglades National Park.
Jewell’s predecessor, Ken Salazar, attended the opening of one mile of the bridge in March. The department says getting $30 million for the next 2.6 mile section of the bridge is a top priority.
Restoration projects help not just the Everglades environment, but also the job market and South Florida’s water supply, Jewell said.
Her airboat tour of Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, about 10 miles west of Boynton Beach, began shortly after 8 a.m. At about 11:30 a.m., she boarded another airboat, west of Miami, for a tour of Everglades National Park.