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Environmental Groups Call "Florida Forever" Budget Cuts Shortsighted

January 23, 2009

A coalition of environmental groups is urging Governor Crist to protect Florida Forever from the chopping block, arguing the cost of slashing the natural resources conservation program would exceed the benefit. Two bills passed during special legislative session cut the program's budget by 80 percent. Critics charge that is unfair and that it would unnecessarily damage efforts to conserve important Florida land.

Laurie MacDonald, Florida director of Defenders of Wildlife, is urging the governor to veto the bills. She says her group understands the need to cut state spending, but that this cut goes too far.

"The legislature has inequitably, unfairly cut the Florida Forever program down. They haven’t provided for re-funding the program in the future; it basically just cuts the program."

Scientists, like Tom Hoctor with the University of Florida and Ecological Greenways Network, called the decision "short-sighted." He believes the conservation budget should be increased to save 1.5 million acres of Florida land from development, and to build a green infrastructure of conservation lands for protecting wildlife, the environment, and the people.

"Green infrastructure is at least as important as our built infrastructure for maintaining both the economic vitality of human communities, as well as our health and well-being in general. Yet, we’re spending how much more on transportation projects versus conservation projects?"

Sue Mullins, a lobbyist for Defenders of Wildlife, says her group's recent study found that every dollar invested in green infrastructure and conservation returned $100 to Florida’s economy. With land prices at record lows, she says now is the time to preserve the future.

"The loss could be permanent. Just like when we buy the land and protect it, it's there forever, permanently, to provide the resources that the people of the state need."

The legislation redirects revenue from the documentary stamp tax, which was earmarked for conservation, to the general fund. While legislators say the reduction is only temporary, the cut cancels already-approved plans to purchase 125 land parcels.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL