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Monday, Dec 18, 2017
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Editorial: Saving the best of Florida

The Florida House and Senate so far have defied the will of the public by ignoring Amendment 1’s directive to bolster conservation spending, and that is unlikely to change this session.

But the governing bodies do at least seem to be showing more of a commitment toward protecting natural Florida.

The House at this point would allocate $127 million for conservation, primarily for water resource projects and conservation easements that preserve land while allowing ranches to continue operations.

The Senate would allocate $115 million for land preservation, including Everglades land acquisition, Florida Communities Trust grants to local governments, and protecting water resources.

In addition, both bodies, to their credit, would invest significantly in Everglades restoration. Spending on the revival of Florida’s natural springs, alas, is still up in the air.

But even with this progress, land preservation spending by the House and Senate is still a far cry from what should be appropriated under Amendment 1.

The law, which passed by 75 percent of the vote in 2014, requires that one-third of the state’s existing documentary stamp tax revenue be used for protecting and managing lands, about $700 million a year.

But lawmakers have diverted money to pay salaries and operational costs never mentioned in the amendment.

Even if lawmakers feel such diversions — which are being challenged in court — are within their rights, they should recognize the need to act quickly to save Florida’s imperiled natural heritage.

There is no time to dawdle. Growth has returned with a vengeance. The state is adding 1,000 new residents a day. In addition, a record 100 million tourists visited Florida last year.

All this can boost the economy, but it also can overwhelm resources, particularly water sources, and jeopardize the natural beauty that makes Florida such a wonderful place to live and work.

Wilderness tracts are razed daily. Biologists blame conflicts between bears and people on development destroying the bears’ habitat.

Pave over Florida’s woodlands, cram its last shoreline with condos, and pollute rivers, lakes and bays and see how quickly the state’s economic outlook sours.

Land acquisition provides a sure way to retain the state’s appeal, and it doesn’t rely on regulations or litigation. It also can avert the need for roads, drainage systems and other costly necessities caused by ill-advised growth.

Land prices will only go up along with the population.

Last year the Legislature approved only $17 million for land purchases. It is encouraging that both the House and Senate are showing greater enlightenment this year, though we hope they agree on a higher spending total than the current proposals.

The courts may eventually enforce Amendment 1’s intent. But lawmakers should see that, regardless of their views on the law, saving Florida’s natural appeal is simply good government.

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