During a meeting of the Florida Cabinet yesterday, Governor Ron DeSantis and the other cabinet members unanimously approved two land deals in Southwest Florida aimed at preserving Florida’s environment through the Florida Forever program.
The Cabinet also authorized the acquisition of a conservation easement under the Florida Forever Program designed to protect the Myakka River Watershed and the Charlotte Harbor Estuary in Southwest Florida. The properties acquired today will be managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The Florida Forever program is the state’s blueprint for conservation of Florida’s natural resources. It replaced the Preservation 2000 program (P2000), the largest program of its kind in the United States. P2000 was responsible for the public acquisition and protection of more than 1.7 million acres of land. Florida Forever encompasses a wider range of goals, including water resource development and supply, increased public access, public lands management and maintenance, and increased protection of land by acquisition of conservation easements.
Florida also has another state conservation easement program: The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, an agricultural land preservation program designed to protect important agricultural lands through the acquisition of permanent agricultural land conservation easements. The program is designed to meet three needs: protect valuable agricultural lands, create easement documents that work together with agricultural production to ensure sustainable agricultural practices and and protect natural resources in conjunction with the economically viable agricultural operations.
This week the House and Senate will take up their respective budgets in their appropriations committees and funding Florida Forever and Rural and Family Lands will be part of the discussion. While Governor DeSantis recommended robust funding for Florida Forever in his recommended budget, there was a noticeable absence of money for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program– odd, considering that the program is a win-win for both the economy and environment.
Couple that with the fact that there is $22 million available in dollar for dollar match from federal sources, and additional federal funding coming this year, the investment in the program should be a no brainer.
But this is politics, not common sense. Rumors abound that the decision not to fund the program might be more about who administers the program and not about the policy. With Rural and Family Lands being housed in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, some speculate that Republicans don’t want to fund such a popular program because it would allow a certain statewide elected Democrat to take some credit. That may happen. But at the end of the day, those that funded the program, and not so much the administrators, deserve the real credit.
The Senate budget prepared under the leadership of State Senator Debbie Mayfield currently contains $8.6M for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, a far cry from maxing out the dollar for dollar match, but a good faith start to get the issue into budget conference.
For the sake of Florida’s environment and the taxpayers, politics shouldn’t trump policy.
As Governor DeSantis said yesterday, “The protection of our environment and vital water resources is one of the most pressing issues facing our state.”