In a moved aimed at better protecting Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday announced a $100 million plan to buy conservation easements and help with wetland restoration in four Florida counties, reports the News Service of Florida. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will buy development rights from ranchers and help restore about 24,000 acres of wetlands to slow and reduce runoff and nutrients that ultimately wind up in Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. The four counties are Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee. Easements typically allow private landholders to continue owning and using property in exchange for giving up development rights. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam praised the announcement and said agricultural lands “play an integral role in the restoration of wetlands in the Northern Everglades.” He also said in a prepared statement: “This approach, which keeps working agricultural lands on the tax rolls and in business, is a model for smart environmental protection.” Vilsack appeared at a ceremony with Hendry County landowner A.J. Suarez, who signed an agreement on a 3,782-acre easement deal. “Protecting and restoring the Northern Everglades is critical not just to Floridians, but to all Americans,” Vilsack said in a prepared statement.