State Cabinet officials approved Florida Forever’s annual work plan Tuesday. It includes several dozen plots of environmentally sensitive land.
Florida Forever is the state’s land conservation program, and Eric Draper of Audubon Florida says preservation is an important investment.
“Florida forever represents an opportunity for us to be able to make sure that the people who come to Florida have an opportunity to experience our beauty as a state,” Draper says.
In the coming year, state officials are focusing on about fifty high priority projects.
“I just want to point out a couple,” Draper goes on, “right on the top of the list is Adams ranch. I can’t think of a more important place to invest money right now.”
The Adams ranch is a 40,000 acre plot stretching across multiple counties. The owner, Bud Adams has been putting pieces of the property into agricultural easements for years. He’d like to put the entirety into the state’s hands, but it might be difficult in light of funding.
Gary Clark represents the Department of Environmental Protection on the council that oversees Florida Forever, and he explains how they evaluate projects.
“The division of state lands 2015 annual work plan focuses on the projects which protect Florida’s water resources, have funding partnerships, are conservation easements, present unique acquisition opportunities, or are substantially complete,” Clark says.
The thread running through many of these? They’re on the less expensive side. In his last budget proposal, Governor Rick Scott asked for $150 million for land acquisition and management, but after a budget fight the appropriation for acquisition was only about $17 million.
Audubon Florida wants Scott to push for $150 million in the next budget, too. But so far he’s not committing to anything.
“As you know the session is going to be coming early this year, so we’re working through that budget now,” Scott says, “hopefully we’ll continue to see our revenues grow as we—as you see our economy turning around, where we’ve added now 917,000 jobs. So I’m optimistic that we’ll have another good budget.”
And all this comes in the wake of Amendment One, a constitutional provision seen as a way to push Florida Forever back toward pre-2008 funding levels. Between 1990 and 2008, lawmakers gave the program 300 million dollars a year.