Buoyed by the state of Florida’s decision to buy 181,000 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area to reconnect Lake Okeechobee with the lower Everglades, the 300 people attending the Everglades Coalition Conference in Miami on Jan. 8-11 found reasons for optimism in the decades-long battle to protect and revitalize southern Florida’s vast wetland ecosystem despite the gloomy economic climate.

Gov. Charlie Crist (R) negotiated to buy the land from United States Sugar Corp., Clewiston, Fla., and announced the deal on June 24. Despite its $1.34-billion cost and the floundering economy, he insisted in a speech to the conference that buying the land offered an opportunity to right an environmental wrong that the state could not afford to miss.

Everglades restoration is a top environmental priority for Obama’s administration.

Many expressed hope that President-elect Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan could deliver long-delayed federal funds for projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The Everglades Coalition, an alliance of 51 conservation and environmental organizations, called on Congress to “include federally approved restoration projects in the 2009 Economic Stimulus package to help jump-start federal funding for the Everglades.” They expect a sympathetic hearing. During the election campaign, Obama pledged to make Everglades restoration “a top environmental priority.”

Eleven Everglades and related projects with aggregate costs of $860 million in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 are shovel-ready, according to the National Audubon Society. Crist said he has asked Obama to devote $1.16 billion of his stimulus package to Everglades restoration.