By Bob Graham
April 4, 2017
The Gainesville Sun
The Constitutional Revision Commission recently began holding meetings to propose amendments to the Florida Constitution. Based on the Florida Legislature’s recent actions, they may as well put an amendment on the 2018 ballot eliminating the first three words of the Florida Constitution, “We the people,” because the clear desires of “the people” are being ignored by those elected to represent us in Tallahassee.
Florida voters overwhelmingly support funding to protect Florida’s environment because they know what it is that makes our state great. It’s our beaches, springs, state parks, rivers, lakes, wildlife and the countless opportunities they provide for Floridians and tourists alike.
A recent poll found that only 4 percent of registered voters support cutting funding to environmental programs. This only adds to the clear message sent by the 75 percent of Florida voters in the 2014 election who supported Amendment 1 to restore funding to Florida’s highly successful land conservation program: Florida Forever.
So what does our current state Legislature do? They propose slashing the Department of Environmental Protection’s budget by more than 25 percent and completely defunding Florida Forever.
Fortunately, we have past legislatures, who had the foresight to fund land conservation programs like Florida Forever, to thank for wonderful places like San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park. Located in Gainesville, this preserve protects one of the last remaining mature forests in Florida and provides one of the best hiking experiences anywhere.
Florida voters overwhelmingly support Florida Forever because they know it is the most effective way to protect Florida’s environment. It uses an unassailable science-driven process. It embraces free market economics. It promotes good development. And, as Gov. Jeb Bush said when signing the Florida Forever Act into law, it is “the most significant … legislation that impacts the citizens of Florida.”
Florida Forever is effective because conserved lands perform essential services just by being left alone. They provide habitat for wildlife, recharge our aquifer, filter out pollutants, mitigate the impacts of climate change, improve the quality of life of all Floridians and reduce the need for costly regulations.
Florida Forever is unassailable because it uses a proven process overseen by scientists and conservation and forestry experts to make land acquisition decisions. In 2013, when the Legislature directed the Department of Environmental Protection to sell unneeded conservation lands, the agency ended the program after nine months without selling a single acre due to the thorough evaluation process the lands underwent prior to purchase.
Florida Forever embraces free-market economics by giving land owners who wish to conserve their properties multiple options to do so, including selling the land directly to the state or just selling the development rights, allowing the land to stay in private ownership while protecting it for perpetuity. Both forms of conservation are important and effective.
The former created and enhances Florida’s best-in-the-nation state parks and forest system; the latter is incredibly popular with ranchers and farmers looking to preserve not only their land but their way of life for future generations. I am encouraged to see that ranchers representing over a million acres have organized to advocate for increased land conservation funding this year.
Florida Forever promotes good development by protecting areas that need to be preserved and directing development toward more suitable lands. As 1000 Friends of Florida’s Florida 2070 project illustrates, more than 5 million acres of natural and agricultural lands will be permanently lost to development over the next 50 years if current growth patterns continue. Restoring Florida Forever funding ensures that we do not lose the best parts of Florida, forever.
Florida Forever impacts the citizens of Florida by protecting special places in their backyards and enhancing the quality of life in their communities. For example, the Lake Santa Fe project, on the Florida Forever priority acquisition list, would preserve the last remaining undeveloped shoreline of Lake Santa Fe from development, protecting water quality, wetlands and wading bird nest sites. Places like this are some of Florida’s last stretches of natural paradise; whether they stay that way is up to us.
Don’t let your elected representatives ignore you any longer. The Florida Conservation Coalition is calling for a minimum of 25 percent of all Amendment 1 funds to be dedicated to land conservation through Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust and for increased funding for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.
Contact your state representative and senator and tell them to do the will of “we the people” by fully funding Florida Forever. If you need help, contact the Florida Conservation Coalition at wearefcc.org.
— Bob Graham served as Florida governor from 1979 to 1987 and as a U.S. senator representing Florida from 1987 to 2005.