If you have hiked in state parks or forests or hunted in wildlife management areas from Pensacola to the Florida Keys or kayaked some of Florida’s treasured springs, you’ve enjoyed the results of the Florida Forever Land Acquisition Program.
This program and its predecessor, Preservation 2000, have protected more than 2.4 million acres of Florida’s special places. Many threatened and endangered species such as the Florida panther, scrub jay and black bear rely on habitat that still needs protection by Florida Forever or some other program.
Land acquisition and protection programs also strengthen Florida’s economy in many ways including keeping forests and ranch lands productive, buffering military bases, and bringing visitors to our state. View the Conservancy report Economic Benefits of Land Conservation: A Case for Florida Forever.
A recent bipartisan poll performed by the Nature Conservancy indicated that three quarters of the U.S. electorate says that “one of the things our government does best” is protecting its “history and natural beauty through national parks, forests and other public lands.”
No wonder, then, that voters are more than three times as likely to say they would prefer to go on vacation this summer in a national park or other public lands, rather than in a major American city.
Globally, land protection efforts benefit the health and wellbeing of citizens by providing natural spaces to enjoy with the added benefits of providing clean air and water. Additionally, recent public polls indicate that public lands provide economic benefits to help attract high-quality employers and jobs to their state.
Unfortunately, the funding levels for the Florida Forever program have been severely reduced over the last few years.
Here’s the Twist
In 2013 the Florida Legislature appropriated $20 million in funds for Florida Forever. The money for conservation comes from the fees paid on real estate transactions. In addition to the appropriation for land acquisition, the Legislature authorized an additional $50 million in spending authority, funded with the sale of state-owned conservation lands “no longer needed” for conservation purposes.
The Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy was one of the participants in the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) that assisted in determining the best criteria to assess the state’s conservation lands. After expressing significant concern that many of these potential surplus lands provide ecological and water resource value and should not be considered for surplus, the list has been significantly reduced but critical lands such as Box-R Wildlife Management Area, Cayo Costa State Park, Hilochee Wildlife Management Area, Torreya State Park and Wekiwa Springs State Park remain on the list.
This demonstrates that over the last 20 years of acquiring lands under Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever, both strongly supported by The Nature Conservancy, the vast majority of lands identified and acquired for conservation purposes are truly those lands with real conservation value and importance for our natural environment, economic and personal well-being.
If you’ve wanted to do something to make a difference for Florida’s future and haven’t known what to do or have just been too busy, this is the time to act. With a small investment of your time, you can make a big difference. Let your elected officials know today that conservation is critically important to Florida’s future.
A look back at the creation of Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever. Learn more
In Florida, the Conservancy has a long history of working in cooperation with local, state and federal agencies to protect critical habitats. Here is a small sampling of these sites, from the western Panhandle to the Florida Keys