|The President’s Hoot|
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
Just when we are finding out that we are running out of water, and our natural and agricultural resources are being diminished daily by development, we now learn from the Nature Conservancy that our nation’s premier land conservation program, Florida Forever, is tapped out of funds and is in jeopardy of expiring. Even though Florida Forever has two years left before it “sunsets” in 2010, the two years of remaining funds are essentially committed to land deals that are already “in the pipeline” across the state.
Florida has been one of the leading States in conserving environmental lands through two programs, Preservation 2000 and its successor program, Florida Forever. The Preservation 2000 program was initially authorized in 1990 for a 10-year period of time at a total level of $3 billion. The Florida Forever program which followed the Preservation 2000 program was authorized in 2000 for a 10-year period of time at a total level of $3 billion. Florida Forever was funded through the sale of bonds. Debt service on the bonds is then paid by revenue generated from Documentary Stamps which results from real estate transactions and land sales. Bonding is important because it spreads the benefits of lands protected forever to future generations of Floridians. It is tapped out of funds and will expire early due to lack of further allocation of funds.
The Indian River County and areas across the state have benefited immensely by this matching state funding for land and water protection and management. But there is a critical need to do more before the lands disappear in development and the price rises. A Florida Forever successor program must be passed this legislative session. A coalition of dozens of organizations including Audubon of Florida, Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Recreation and Park Association, Florida Wildlife Federation, 1,000 Friends of Florida, the Nature Conservancy, and the Trust for Public Land are strongly urging our legislators about the need for a Florida Forever successor program. This Coalition is seeking the creation of a successor program that would receive double the existing annual funding starting in FY 09 – $600 million/year.
This is important as:
- Florida’s special natural and recreational land is disappearing at an alarming rate —hundreds of acres a day! Land loss is permanent. Extinction is irreversible. The Nature Conservancy has reported that an additional 2 million acres must be acquired to protect Florida’s natural heritage, a list currently valued at $17 billion.
- An additional $4.3 billion is necessary for city and county park departments to acquire the 120,000 acres needed for future parks and recreational sites,
- We face issues such as building desalination plants, loss of billions in tourist income, paying for wildfire damages, to name a few.
- The current real estate slump in Florida provides historic opportunities for land conservation. Without more funding now, these places could be lost forever.
P.S. Even though we appear to have won the Corrigan/St. Johns land exchange issue, you should also ask for laws passed that do not allow a governmental agency like St. Johns River Water Management District to trade off conservation lands that have already been purchased with Preservation 2000 Florida Forever Funds