The state’s effort to “earn” $50 million in proceeds from the sale of state conservation lands in order to buy additional lands for preservation has fallen far short of its goal. The Governor and legislature in this past year’s budget authorized the sale of $50 million in lands to fund new land buying, but the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection has only identified between $6 and $14 million worth of parcels no longer needed for conservation.
The department initiated a geographic information system-based scientific review of the 3.1 million acres managed by the Florida Forest Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks and came up with an initial list of 5,330 acres. But after public hearings held across the state produced substantial protest about the project and specific parcels, DEP staff conducted more review. The list of parcels for potential surplus is now down to 3,405 acres.
Last week in both House and Senate hearings, DEP’s director of the Division of State Lands Susan Grandin was questioned about the process, the necessity of selling land to buy land, and about some specific parcels still on the list. In Wednesday’s Senate Appropriations Sub-committee on General Government, members acknowledged complaints they have heard from constituents, and questioned why the state would sell land in the Coastal High Hazard areas, including in Charlotte County, as well as in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.
Grandin said that most of the parcels important for coastal and water protection have been removed from the list or will be sold with a conservation easement attached to keep the lands from being developed. She did not refer to any specific parcels in question, but said the process is still underway and that additional lands may be removed from the list.
Senate committee chairman Alan Hays, who sponsored a bill last year requiring the state to sell off one acre for every new acre purchased for conservation, defended DEP’s project to surplus land. Hays said they should be commended for not just selling the top-priced lands, but Grandin also said she had no idea how close they were to reaching the $50 million. She said she hoped the economy recovers and they sell the lands “for a lot of money.”
Better yet, with an improving economy Florida has the money to again fully fund Florida Forever for the full $300 million a year, which means we could avoid selling any existing conservation land in order to protect additional lands with significant conservation value.