The Associated Press
SARASOTA — Much of the land that the state considered surplus conservation land that could be sold to raise money for the purchase other environmentally sensitive lands turned out to be worth conserving – leaving Florida with less money to spend on other land needed to protect natural resources.
In August, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection listed 169 properties as surplus. But the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that after listening to public comments, the agency has cut that list to 77 properties.
Environmental advocates say that without more property available to sell, Florida may fall behind in acquiring new conservation lands.
The Florida Legislature had budgeted $70 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program, but $50 million was to come from the sale of surplus conservation lands already in the state’s possession.
“First they said it’d be a great way to fund Florida Forever. Now they’ll be lucky to get $12 million to $14 million out of the sale of the land,” said Julie Morris of Venice-based Wildlands Conservation, a consulting firm that identifies willing sellers of environmentally sensitive land.
“It does show the state has been making astute purchases when it comes to conservation,” Morris said.
The state should make further cuts to the list, argue officials from the Florida Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
In a Sept. 10 letter to DEP staff, Audubon Florida’s director of advocacy suggested that none of the properties on the state’s list met the standards set by the Florida Constitution for the disposal of conservation lands.
Still, allowing the state’s land-buying program to stagnate risks significant consequences, said David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.
“People forget,” he said. “The population of Florida has gone from 2 million to 20 million in a fairly short time. All the ecosystem services we take for granted, that we think of as free, they’re not. And if we don’t protect them and set them aside, it’s going to be very expensive to live in the state of Florida.”