On Dec. 13, I spoke at the Press Conference to Fund Florida Forever in St. Petersburg. Similar press conferences were held statewide in North Ft. Myers, Gainesville, and St. Augustine all sharing the same message: fully fund Florida Forever. Days of action are also planned for Fort Walton Beach, Gulf Breeze, and Pensacola.
You can watch the press conference on FCV’s Facebook page, or read my comments below:
Good morning friends and fellow conservationists. I’m Lindsay Cross, Government Relations Director with Florida Conservation Voters.
Thank you to Sierra Club, Florida Conservation Coalition and the many partners who are organizing events around the state. Thank you, Rep. Ben Diamond, for your leadership, especially related to addressing our climate crisis. And thanks to all of you here today.
I want to acknowledge that we’ve had a rough decade. In terms of conservation and true investments in our water, wild spaces, and wildlife, it’s been downright rotten. It is time for that to change.
Florida has historically been a leader when it comes to conservation. Under Republican-led Governors, we enacted forward-looking conservation programs like Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever – the envy of states nationwide. For two decades, we committed $300 million each year to protect the integrity of our state. We recognized that land and water were essential to our ecological and biological integrity and also helped build a strong economy. Our leaders had the foresight to invest in our green capital and we are indebted to them for protecting the real Florida: iconic places like Kissimmee Prairie Preserve – our state’s only official “Dark Sky” location. Conservation leaders saved places like Archie Carr Sea Turtle Refuge which is a globally significant nesting haven for four species of threatened or endangered sea turtles. Measuring 10 miles, it is one of the few contiguous, undeveloped coastlines on the Atlantic coast we have left. And we’ve also protected large ranches and pine forests that not only support our the needs of a growing human population, but are critical for wildlife like the Florida panther, the Florida black bear, and the red-cockaded woodpecker.
These places matter. The species they support matter. And the people, like you and I that love them and depend upon them, matter. Because these places help to support our well being, our health, our welfare, and our quality of life.
The good news is that we had the foresight to protect these places, thanks to full Florida Forever funding.
The bad news: There is a long list of other natural, iconic places that we haven’t yet protected and CAN’T protect without full, dedicated and recurring funding for Florida Forever, including its Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and Florida Communities Trust.
In the past decade, starting with the 2008 recession, conservation funding was slashed. It has not returned even when our economy came back. Tourists continue to flock to our state in record numbers. 900 people a day change their state of residency to our state and claim a piece of the Florida dream. While all of these metrics increased, investments in conservation have not.
That’s when you, the people stepped up. In 2014, 75% of you approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Concerned Floridians like you had the foresight to stand up and demand that we fund these excellent programs. Yet, while Florida voters had the clear vision to do this, Florida legislators have had blinders on, blatantly ignoring the will of the people by refusing to restore the funding that these programs deserve and that you and I have demanded.
We’re tired of getting scraps, which is why organizations, business groups, and everyday Floridians are standing together today – and for as long as it takes – to demand full and consistent funding for our vital conservation programs.
$33 million for Florida Forever in the 2019 budget was not enough. The $100 million proposed for 2020 is not enough. If we could invest $300 million 25 years ago, we can certainly invest that much or more today. As the Florida Chamber of Commerce loves to remind us, if Florida were a country, it would be the 16th largest economy in the world. And we are only growing. We must restore funds to at least the historical investments.
The vision for a conserved Florida includes clean water, healthy habitats, abundant wildlife, and opportunities for all Floridians to get outside. We already have the plan, the programs, and the will of the people. In 2020, it is time for our Legislators and Governor to fully fund Florida Forever!