Revive Florida Forever
After years of neglecting Florida Forever, it is encouraging to see the budgets of the state House and Senate include funding for the land-acquisition program. The House has the superior plan, but at least both governing bodies recognize the importance of protecting lands that sustain our water supply, offer recreational opportunities, provide wildlife habitat and give Florida the natural beauty that underpins its appeal. Gov. Rick Scott also supports reviving Florida Forever, which has been virtually moribund in recent years. It received only $8 million in funding last year. The House and the Senate both would allocate $50 million toward the purchase of environmentally valuable land that would be generated by selling surplus state lands.This is appropriate. The state owns many parcels that it doesn’t need. Sometimes when the state is buying a wilderness parcel, landowners require it to buy outlying acreage with little conservation value as part of the deal. It makes sense to sell off such properties in order to buy land that merits preservation. In addition to using money from the sale of surplus lands, the House would allocate an additional $25 million to Florida Forever and give another $25 million to the Rural and Family Lands Protection Act program, which buys conservation easements on ranches. This allows the land to continue to be used for agriculture while protecting the environmentally significant portions from development. The Senate, in contrast, would spend only an additional $10 million on land acquisition to buffer military bases, a laudable goal. As rapid growth returns to the state and property values rise, now is no time to shortchange a program that protects the environment and property rights — and has an outstanding track record. Either funding plan would represent a dramatic improvement over the status quo, but the House plan would do far more to save Florida’ natural heritage for future generations.