It is essential to preserve Florida's natural habitats. While there are many ways of assisting in this effort of conservation, providing funding for the Florida Forever program has been one of the most effective.
What is Florida Forever?
Florida Forever is a program that was established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2001 to replace the Preservation 2000 program, an ambitious public land acquisition program through which the state purchased and conserved over 2.5 million acres of land. Florida Forever falls under the authority of the State's Department of Environmental Protection. Since it's inception in 2001 it has allowed the state to purchase over 800,000 acres at the cost of just over 3 billion dollars.
It is the duty of the state legislature to appropriate funding for Florida Forever, funding which is then used by the Department of Environmental Protection to purchase public lands and hold them in trust on behalf of the citizens of Florida.
How much land has Florida Forever helped to conserve?
According to the Department of Environmental Protection, "through Florida Forever the state has protected:
- 652,000 acres of strategic habitat conservation areas
- 628,670 acres of rare species habitat conservation areas, including 1,149 sites that are habitats for 536 different rare species, 210 of which are federal- or state-listed as endangered, and 111 federal- or state-listed threatened
- 784,000 acres of ecological greenways
- 134,840 acres of under-represented natural communities
- 570,870 acres landscape-size protection areas
- 457,160 acres of natural floodplains
- 796,060 acres important to significant water bodies
- 462,020 acres minimize damage from flooding
- 9,650 acres of fragile coastline
- 320,880 acres of functional wetlands
- 770,530 acres of significant groundwater recharge areas
- 460 miles of priority recreational trails
- 412,250 acres of sustainable forest land
- 1,115 archaeological/historic sites
- 12,140 acres in urban service areas
How is Florida Forever funded?
Florida Forever is funded through the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. This fund is provided by taking a small percentage of money collected from real estate transactions. These payments are known as documentary stamps.
Amendment 1 on Florida's ballot passed with 75% approval from Florida's voters in the year 2014. The Amendment was titled "Water and Land Conservation - Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands." The Amendment required that Florida's Legislature dedicate 33 percent of the net revenue from the documentary stamps to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
Controversy regarding the use of Florida Forever funds
A lawsuit was brought by the Florida Defenders of the Environment against the Legislature in 2015 alleging that the Florida Legislature had misspent the funds. There was controversy following the revelation that the Florida Legislature had been allocating funds meant for Land Acquisition towards other projects and even administrative costs. In recent years, many have argued that Florida Forever funding has been misused in disregard of the Florida electorate's will regarding conservation.
Governor Ron DeSantis Recent Developments
When campaigning to be Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis ran on a platform involving the protection of Florida's environment and natural water systems. Since winning the election, Governor DeSantis has approved of the spending of $2.5 billion for Everglades restoration and water quality.
More recently, Governor DeSantis also approved of the purchase of two pieces of land (one North of Gainesville, the other in Sarasota County) using Florida Forever to fund $19.5 million dollars towards the purchase. Speaking about his commitment to the conservation of Florida's environment, DeSantis stated that "the protection of our environment... is one of the most pressing issues facing our state."
Governor DeSantis spoke recently at the 2020 Lay of the Land Conference. You can listen to his comments about his Florida conservation efforts here.