Public Policy

Support the Senate's Florida Forever Plan and Reject the House Plan

February 26, 2018

IMPORTANT UPDATE as of March 6: We still need you to act as requested below, but so far it appears we have been successful in persuading the Senate to stand against the House bill.  An appropriation that would provide Florida Forever with $100.8 million next year, and distribute the funds according to the existing formula in the Florida Forever Act, has been approved by both the House and Senate thanks to the Senate's stand against HB 7063.  But there is still pressure being applied for passage of 7063 so we cannot stop letting the Senate leadership know we want them to maintain their position.  An appropriation, instead of passage of SB 370, means only 1 year of funding and we will have to push again next year for a longer term solution - but that is preferable to passage of a bad bill.

We need you to act NOW on behalf of Florida Forever by contacting the leadership of the Florida Senate to let them know you strongly support their bill and want them to stand against a proposal by the Florida House that would diminish the Florida Forever program. The House wants to delay funding and is seeking a legislative change that would redirect most future funding for land conservation to urban parks and the purchase of easements over agricultural land rather than to the protection of our most significant and vulnerable natural landscapes.

We are grateful to the Florida Senate for passing a bill that would provide a minimum a $100 million per year to Florida Forever. It represents the best opportunity to restore meaningful funding to land conservation since the 2007 onset of the recession. Unfortunately, the Florida House of Representatives has taken a very different approach. They propose to withhold funding for the first year and then provide funding in future years on a rising scale. Although their formula might provide more total funding than the Senate over the remaining 16 years of Amendment 1, it would actually result in less land conservation! How can that be? The devil is in the details, and the details include a large increase in the share of Florida Forever funding that would go to the Florida Communities Trust (FCT) and Rural and Family Lands Protection (RFL) programs. The House plan would require that fully 2/3 of ALL FUTURE FLORIDA FOREVER FUNDING must go directly to FCT and RFL!

When we think of land conservation through Florida Forever, most of us envision land purchases that preserve significant natural areas and sensitive landscapes – areas that often have become new state parks or state forests, or that have conserved areas important for the protection of water resources. That’s because the vast majority of Florida Forever funds have historically been reserved for those kinds of projects,

A smaller proportion of Florida Forever funding has been dedicated to other types of land purchases. For example, the FCT program receives 21% of total Florida Forever funding to help county and city governments purchase properties for developed parks, often located in urbanized areas. The Florida Department of Agriculture receives 6% to purchase easements that protect productive, privately-owned agricultural lands from development under the RFL program. The House bill proposes to change the distribution,so that 33% goes to FCT, 33% goes to support RFL, and the remaining 33% goes to traditional Florida Forever type purchases, which under current rules would receive 65% of total funds.

The FCT and RFL programs fill an important need and deserve funding – but not at the expense of protecting our most important remaining natural areas! FCT and RFL do not make the protection of sensitive natural areas, or significant habitat for endangered flora and fauna, an overriding priority. Although some FCT projects do sometimes help conserve natural landscapes and important habitat for native plants and animals, the primary focus is recreational access, so many FCT purchases are small, extremely expensive urban parks with little importance to conservation. RFL purchases easements over working ranches and other active agricultural lands, with the primary goal of maintaining agricultural productivity. The lands remain in private ownership and the public does not enjoy any access.

In contrast, the natural values of the 118 projects listed in the Florida Forever 5-Year Plan have been thoroughly studied and vetted using a science-based analysis, and approved for acquisition by the state’s Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC). Collectively, these “ARC” Florida Forever projects represent the most important remaining natural areas in the state. They are essentially irreplaceable, and many of them are at great risk of being developed if the funding to acquire them is not provided soon.

The modified distribution of funds proposed by the House bill would also eliminate the 1.5% of annual funding that is made available to support management needs, like conducting prescribed burns and controlling invasive species. Some legislators mistakenly argue that Florida is unable to properly manage the lands we have already conserved. Does it make sense to further limit funding for management?

We need to let the Senate leadership know we support their bill (SB-370) in its current form because it would immediately dedicate $100 million per year to Florida Forever without proposing to alter the way Florida Forever funds are distributed to the various acquisition programs. Please use the contact information provided below to phone or email Senate President Joe Negron and Senator Robert Bradley, sponsor of SB-370, to let them know how much you appreciate their plan to fund Florida Forever and ask them to fight against the change proposed by the House in HB-7063. Emphasize the following points:

• Thank them for supporting Florida Forever by passing SB-370.

• Tell them you agree that Florida Forever needs substantial funding NOW, as called for by their bill, and ask them to fight against the House proposal that we wait at least several more years before seeing meaningful funding. The bulldozers and land developers aren’t going to wait until then, and neither should Florida Forever.

• The Florida Forever Act distributes funds to the various land acquisition programs in a way that prioritizes the protection of our most important natural areas. Please retain this approach by resisting pressure from the House to redirect the majority of funding to the Florida Communities Trust and Rural and Family Lands programs, which have different goals.

• Remind them that Florida Forever will be one of our greatest legacies to those who come after us, and this is their opportunity to stand firmly in support of that legacy.

You can reach Senate President Joe Negron at Negron.Joe@flsenate.gov or by phone at (850) 487-5025.

You can reach Senator Rob Bradley at Bradley.Rob@flsenate.gov or by phone at (850) 487-5005.

The Legislative Session ends in 2 weeks, so please do not delay in taking action. It will take only a few moments to send an email or make a phone call. Thank you for acting on behalf of Florida Forever!

 

Update: FNPS Successful in Pursuit of Florida Forever Funding

March 15, 2018

Senator Rob Bradley stood against House Bill 7063, which would have rewritten how future Florida Forever funding would have been distributed amongst the various land acquisition programs, and negotitated a one-year appropriation o $100.8 million for next year.  $77 million of that will be dedicated to projects already reviewed and approved by the Acquisition and Restoration Council.  Those are the traditional, high conservation value projects that have distinguished Florida Forever as the best land conservation program in the country.

FNPS thanks Senator Bradley, and Senate President Joe Negron, for their firm leadership on this issue.  Senator Bradley's bill (SB 370) passed the Senate unanimously, and would have required at least $100 million for Florida Forever every year.  It is unfortunate the House refused to follow their lead.  But to put $100 million into proper perspective, it exceeds the cumulative total that has gone to "ARC" projects over the last 10 years.

We will continue the fight for a fully funded Florida Forever ($300 million annually) next year.  Thanks to your effective action, we can be grateful for success this year!  And let Senators Bradley and Negron know you appreciate their leadership during a very difficult session.

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Types of Issues Addressed by FNPS

  • General areas considered to be of statewide FNPS significance
  • Any Florida legislative action that affects our state environmental land acquisition program known as Florida Forever, which includes Florida Communities Trust and/or any other state agency funded through Florida Forever (DEP). This includes, but is not limited to, any legislation affecting funding of the program. It also includes the urgent need to fund the Florida Forever program.
  • All state and local land acquisition efforts for preservation and conservation.
  • Any statewide policy changes that enhance improve or further natural resource system protection within recognized preserves and/or reserve or state park refuge.
  • Development issues that are regional or have statewide significance in that they affect a change in Florida policy towards land acquisition, natural resource systems or waters of the state, but only if the issue clearly relates to the FNPS mission to preserve, conserve and restore native plants and native plant communities.
  • Any state legislative, state agency or state university action that would affect the viability (or lack thereof) of native plants and native plant communities. This includes, but is not limited to, state policy on exotic invasive species, water conservation, listed plant species, and cataloging of native plant communities.

General areas considered not to be of statewide significance include

  • Issues that are primarily related to managing the way a local jurisdiction grows or the methods it uses to plan growth. Unless it can be shown to meet criteria number four in the previous section.
  • Issues that are primarily transportation related unless the issue is of at least regional significance and would impact an established preserve/reserve/state park refuge/or a functional ecologically sensitive ecosystem.
  • Issues that involve local jurisdictional ordinances or land development codes.