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Bill Nelson, Everglades Foundation lament Ken Salazar's departure

Though his boss has yet to visit the Everglades, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was a regular visitor who made restoring the River of Grass one of the Obama administration's top environmental priorities.

Salazar on Wednesday became the latest Cabinet member to step down for the president's second term. The Everglades Foundation, an influential advocacy group based in Palmetto Bay, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, praised the former Colorado senator's role in reviving Everglades restoration.

Salazar, who visited Florida at least 10 times during his four-year term, championed efforts to ban the import of Burmese python and create a new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Area north of Lake Okeechobee. Federal spending on the Everglades ramped up dramatically during the Obama administration, with $1.5 billion directed toward restoration programs. He supported adding more bridging along Tamiami Trail. Interior, working with the Environmental Protection Agency, also negotiated a landmark expansion of Florida's pollution clean-up efforts.

Eric Eikenberg, chief executive of the Everglades Foundation, said Salazar's departure in March meant "the loss one of the nation’s true friends of America’s Everglades.”

Nelson said the Interior secretary, a rancher who typically showed up in cowboy boots and hat, would be missed.

“Ken Salazar is my personal friend, and he’s much more,'' Nelson said in a statement. "He’s been a good friend to Florida and will always be a friend of the Everglades.''

--CURTIS MORGAN

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