Published: Jul 19, 2010 9:32 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 19, 2010 6:27 PM EDT

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - The federal government will spend $89 million to preserve almost 26,000 acres of wild ranch land in a northern swath of the Florida Everglades in the biggest purchase of its kind.

Federal officials announced the land deal Monday. Under the plan, the federal government will purchase the land from four ranching families in the Fisheating Creek watershed located in Florida's rural Highlands County.

The outlay represents a quarter of what the federal government will spend buying land this year as part of its Wetlands Reserve Program. It also is the largest contiguous easement purchase in the program's history.
     
The entire Everglades once covered more than 6,250 square miles, but has shrunk by half, replaced with homes and farms and a 2,000-mile grid of drainage canals.