MANAGEMENT OF STATE CONSERVATION LANDS Part VII of 9

This can also be viewed on http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands.AcqHistory.htm.  Authors are  James A. Farr and O. Greg Brock, Florida Division of State Lands

Every parcel of state-owned conservation and resource-based recreat land must have a manger assigned to it.   We have four primary land managers within the state system.  The Division of Recreation and Parks within DEP manages our state park system, which includes state parks, state recreation areas and state preserves.   The Office of coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas, also in DEP, manages aquatic preserves, our three National Estuarine Research Reserves and the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary.  The Division of Forestry, housed in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages the state forest system.  Finally, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (formerly the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, but now merged with the former Marine Fisheries Commission) manages Wildlife Management Areas, with an emphasis on hunting, and Wildlife and Environmental Areas, with an emphasis on protecting listed species.   The Division of Historical Resources within the Department of State also manages a few historical and archaeological sites around the state, and DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails manages the Cross Florida Greenway State Recreation and Conservation Area.

The purpose for which a project is purchased is identified as part of the project evaluation process, and the manager is confirmed by the Governor and Cabinet when the acquisition is approved.   After receiving a lease from DEP’s Bureau of Public Land Administration, the land manager has one year to develop a management plan for a new management unit or an amendment to the management plan of an existing unit.  The management planning process involves holding the public meetings in which citizens living near the park, forest, preserve, reserve or wildlife area are given the opportunity to participate in deciding how a parcel will be managed. 

The management plans themselves identify in much greater detail the natural resources on the site, outline the management needs of the site and how those needs will be addressed, provide site plans for any proposed development (cabins, camping areas, ranger residences, trails, roads, bathhouses, etc.) and provide an estimate of the amount of funding and personnel that will be needed for optimal management of the site.   Upon completion, the management plan must be submitted to an approved by the Acquisition and Restoration Council, who ensure that the sensitive natural resources on the property will be protected.

Land Management Review Team

As part of the ongoing process to provide accountability to the public for proper management of state-owned conservation lands, the 1997 Florida Legislature added a new process to inspect parks, forests, wildlife areas and buffer preserves to ensure that they are being managed appropriately in accordance with their acquisition purposes and management plans.  The Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for establishing regional Land Management Review Teams to inspect and evaluate management of units of our state-owned conservation lands inventory.   The review teams consist of an individual from the county or local community  in which the parcel or project is located and who is selected by the county commission in the county which is most affected by the acquisition; individuals from the Division of Recreation and Parks, the Division of Forestry, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; an individual from DEP’s district regulatory office in which the parcel is located; a private land manager, a member of the local soil and water conservation district board of supervisors; and a member of a conservation organization.

The review teams are required to visit and report on all of our management units great than 1000 acres in size every five years and may also inspect smaller units as time permits.   We currently have approximately 485 State Parks, State Forests, Wildlife Management Areas, State Buffer Preserves, and other environmental and cultural management units in Florida (including several jointly owned with local government, water management district, and other partners), of which 148 are greater than 1000 acres in size.   All 148 of these have been inspected at least once, and we are in the process of visiting all of them a second time.   We have also inspected approximately 40 of the smaller units.

The Department of Environmental Protection compiles the results of the site inspections into an annual report for the Governor and Cabinet.  Prior to being presented to the Cabinet in October, DEP staff also makes a presentation at a public meeting of the Acquisition and Restoration Council.  Members of the general public have an opportunity to comment on Land Management Review Team findings at both the ARC and Cabinet meetings.

Management Funding

Funding for land management prior to Preservation 2000 was historically from a hodge-podge of individual trust funds (State Park Trust Fund, Division of Forestry’s Incidental Trust Fund, State Game Trust Fund, etc.), unpredictable general revenue appropriations to individual managing agencies and various other state and federal funds.   We were often criticized, perhaps fairly, for purchasing more land than we were able to manage.  Certainly management needs exceeded the available funding.   It was also difficult for managing agencies to begin to take care of newly-acquired lands and open them to the public because they could not get management money until the next time the legislature was in session.

Management funding became more timely and more stable under Preservation 2000 with a system that continues today.   First, with the majority of acquisition funds now coming either from the sale of bonds or directly from general revenue, the old CARL Trust Fund began to be used as a source of funding for land management.  Bond funds cannot be used for land management.   The old mixture of trust funds and other assorted funds still exists, but there is now a more reliable recurring source of revenue for land management.

The management funds are distributed among managing agencies in accordance with the number of acres they manage, weighted by the intensity of management required by some sites. In particular, the division of Recreation and Parks receives three times the amount per acres for managing state parks, which typically require more infrastructure and facilities development, more personnel, and more active supervision of visitors.  At the beginning of each fiscal year (July 1 of each year), 90 percent of available long-term management funds are distributed among the managing agencies for ongoing management of their lands.  Ten percent is held in reserve for managing historical resources and for any special management needs.   any funds from this reserve that are not spent by April 1 of each year are distributed among all managing agencies based on the weighted formula used at the beginning of the fiscal year.

We have also instituted a procedure for allocating interim management funds to land management agencies as soon as they execute their lease from the Division of State Palnds.  these interim management funds allow the managing agencies to begin taking care of their lands as soon as they receive them in their system rather than having to wait until the lands are included in the next round of long-term management fund allocation.  Immediate needs typically include fencing and various activities necessary to prepare a site to accept visitors.

There are still insufficient management funds for ideal management of all of our conservation lands, as outlined in the long-term plans for site development and management in individual land management plans, but was have significantly improved management funding since enacting the Preservation 2000 Act.  Although funding shortages are stillthe primary reason that our parks, forests, wildlife areas and buffer preserves are not managed to their full potential, all of our conservation lands are being adequately managed in conformance with the reasons for which we bought them, and all are open to the public.

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