North Florida Land Trust is urging Florida lawmakers to do the right thing and properly fund land conservation. In 2014, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved The Florida Water and Land Acquisition Amendment to provide increased funding for acquiring and improving Florida’s conservation and recreation lands. However, lawmakers have failed to restore the meaningful funding to programs like Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust.
NFLT and the Florida Conservation Coalition are calling on the legislature to dedicate a minimum of 25 percent of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund each year to Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust. From those funds, NFLT calls for $50 million per year to be allocated for the Florida Communities Trust program, which local cities and counties use to fund the acquisition of land for public parks. Among many other projects, FCT money has been used to acquire Dutton Island Park and Preserve in Duval County, Moccasin Slough in Clay County, Egan’s Creek Greenway in Nassau County, Palm Coast Greenway in Flagler County, Fort Mose in St. Johns County and St. Mary Shoals in Baker County.
Currently, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is asking for just $50 million to acquire conservation easements through the Rural and Family Land Protection Program. Governor Rick Scott is requesting $15.2 million for the Florida Forever program.
“What Commissioner Putnam and Governor Scott are requesting is nowhere near what Florida voters were expecting when we overwhelming passed legislation in 2014,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “We believe the legislature needs to adhere to the voters’ wishes and we urge voters to contact their lawmakers and ask them, at the very least, to dedicate 25 percent of the LATF to preserving our state’s lands.”
NFLT and the Coalition agree that the funds must be used for land acquisition and conservation easement projects that are on the approved Acquisitions and Restoration Council’s priority list and for Florida Communities Trust. The legislature should also increase funding of the LATF for conservation easements through the Rural and Family Lands program, which allow ranchers and farmers to continue using the land while protecting it from development.
“This is a great vehicle for the current and older farmers to make it easier for young farmers to get into farming,” said McCarthy. “It is a win for everyone including the environment. It keeps the land free from development and the pollutants that come along with it. It helps protect our clean drinking water and the natural lands that our wildlife depends on.”
Florida Forever used to be the state’s largest land-buying program at $300 million a year, until lawmakers cut off funding in 2009. The water and land conservation measure approved by voters in 2014 was supposed to restore funding. However, in recent years it has received, at most, 5 percent of its traditional funding.