In the beginning of a re-election year that’s bound to be filled with surprises, the Florida Legislature has proposed a $74.5 billion budget that includes more money for land and water conservation than it has in five years.  Well, there’s more money for virtually everythingin the state budget this year.  But in a setting where even Members of the upper chamber declare “the state of Florida owns too much land and we can’t even take care of what we (sic) got”, and then file bills to take away one acre of conservation land for every new one bought, the fact that there’s millions more in preservation purchases is stunning.

Here are the highlights of what made it into the budget, due in large part to the efforts of Wildlands Conservation and their allies in the conservation community:

  • $70 million for Florida Forever, where
  1. $10 million will be spent on military base buffering projects on the Florida Forever priority list
  2. $10 million will be spent on projects on the Florida Forever priority list
  3. $50 million will be raised from the sale of other conservation lands and be used to buy military base-buffering lands, springs and water resource lands, less-than-fee and 50% match projects
  • $11,138,555 for the Rural and Family Lands Protection program in the Florida Dept. of Agriculture.  These are projects on working lands such as farms and ranches that serve conservation goals.
  • $4,474,973 for the purchase of lands under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Habitat Conservation Plans
  • $10 million in funds for the restoration, preservation and protection of Florida’s Springs by the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection.  This money could be used to set minimum flows and levels, purchase lands to protect, or restore degraded springs.
  • $70 million to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan
  • $29,320,110 to the Water Management Districts for land acquisition

In all, Florida’s conservation efforts may take some tentative steps forward this year, despite the ideological divide that exists in Tallahassee over permitting, nutrients in water, fertilizer runoff, or for that matter, the ability for the state to buy and hold natural lands for perpetual preservation and enjoyment.  With big wins in the state budget, there is reason to celebrate the very few and small victories that befall the conservation community, even when bad bills remain in play in these final days of Session 2013.