FLORIDA FOREVER — 2000 TO PRESENT Part IV of 9 parts

Preservation 2000 was a phenomenal success.  Florida was able to preserve almost two million acres of land for conservation and resource-based recreation through the many programs it funded.  We made substantial headway in protecting the state’s natural heritage for the future, but it was clear that many plant and animal species and several different natural vegetative communities would still be lost if we did not devote more resources to their protection.   There had already been talk among the environmental groups of a successor to Preservation 2000, but it became clear in 1998 that the general public also supported continued funding for land acquisition.

The 1968 Florida Constitution required that a Constitution Revision Commission meet in 1978 and again in 1998 to evaluated the Constitution and suggest revisions.  The 1998 Commission proposed several substantial changes to our Constitution that would be put before the voters in November, 1998.  The one that is relevant to this discussion was Amendment 5, which, among other things, extended indefinitely the state’s ability to sell bonds to finance environmental land acquistion and created a more difficult test for the disposal of land purchased for conservation purposes, thereby attempting to ensure that what is bought for conservation, stays in conservation.   Even though Florida was becoming increasingly conservative and “property rights” was a frequent topic of discussion, 72 percent of Florida’s electorate voted to approve Amendment 5.  It was clear that the citizens of Florida were fully behind continued protection of our dwindling natural resources.

The groundwork for a successor program began under Governor Lawton Chiles, and in 1999, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Forever Act, with the support of Governor Jeb Bush.   Florida Forever resulted in a major revision and replacement of the Save our Rivers and CARL Programs, which we now call the State and Water Management District Florida Forever Programs, respectively, while continuing funding to the Florida Communities Trust, the three Inholdings and Additions programs, and the Greenways and Trails.   As did its predecessor, Florida Forever authorizes the sale of up to $300 million in bonds for ten years, but distributed differently than under Preservation 2000.  The Florida Forever Program that replaced CARL receives 35 percent, another 35 percent is divided among the five water management district programs, Florida Communities Turst receives 22 percent, each Inholdings and Additions program receives 1.5 percent, as does Greenways and Trails.   The final 2 percent goes to the Florida Recreational Development Assistance Program to fund development of recreational facilities.

The Florida Forever Act made several changes.  There is a greater focus on urban and community parks, as illustrated by the increase in funding to Florida Communities Trust.  There is a greater emphasis on protecting water resources and water supply, and there is a new emphasis on purchasing conservation easements on lands that do not necessarily need to be held in fee title by the state.   Unlike Preservation 2000, Florida Forever allows bond funds to be used for facilities development, for ecological restoration and invasive exotic plant removal, and for conducting species inventories and land management planning.  Finally, the Florida Forever Act provides for land management funding through the CARL and SOR trust funds.

The Florida Forever Act sets out several specific goals to guide land acquisition throughout the state through its several programs.  They include coordination and completion of project unfinished under previous programs, emphasis on protecting Florida’s biodiversity and protecting, restoring and maintaining natural ecological functions.  It also calls for ensuring that the state has sufficient quantities of groundwater.   There is continued recognition of the need to provide recreation and educational opportunities for citizens and tourists, to protect archaeological and historic sites and to provide forest land for sustainable management.   Finally, there is a goal to provide more urban open spaces.

Unlike earlier statutes governing environmental land acquisition in Florida, the Florida Forever Act provides 34 performance measures under its eight goals.  Three deal with acquisition coordination and completion, six are concerned with protecting biodiversity, eleven cover ecological restoration and ecosystem protection,  three are concerned with quantities of water, three with public recreation, two with archaeological and historical resources, four with sustainable forestry, and two with urban open spaces.   We are now required to identify priority areas for satisfying these goals and measures and determine the number of acres we have acquired that fulfill each measure.  There is thus much more legislative guidance directing land acquisition.

The Florida Forever Act also replaced the old Land Acquisition and Management Advisory Council (LAMAC) with a new nine-member Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC).  This new Council has the heads of the five agencies that were on the LAMAC (minus the double representation of the Department of Environmental Protection) plus four private citizens with an environmental background appointed by the Governor.

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