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Making Sure 'FL Forever' is Forever

May 5, 2011

NAPLES, Fla. - A growing chorus of business and environmental voices is calling on lawmakers to save a program that has protected millions of acres of wildlife habitat across Florida.

Florida Forever, the largest land-buying program in the nation, was designed to help protect water resources and conserve vast tracts of wildlife habitat for animals such as Florida panthers, black bears and manatees. After being fully funded for a decade, the program has withered with almost no funds for the past two years because of state budget woes.

Tim Male, vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, says the program is good for the animals that call Florida home - and great for business.

"Protecting land increases the value of nearby homes, it reduces local costs in terms of providing infrastructure, and it's just really shortsighted for the state not to see the benefits of that."

Investing in Florida's tourism, agricultural and real estate industries by funding Florida Forever will help to ensure a healthier economy, Male says. Tourism alone pumps $65 billion annually into the state's economy, with ecotourism growing each year.

Many businesses stand to gain from continuing programs that protect Florida's natural areas, according to Christian Spilker, vice president for land management at Collier Enterprises, an agricultural and development company in southwestern Florida. The program has raised property values and helped spur business, Spilker says, and it would be a huge mistake for lawmakers to let it die.

"If the program goes away, even in the short term, I'm concerned that it goes away forever - and I don't think the people of Florida want that to happen."

With land prices low, Spilker says, now is the time to fund the program before development pressure builds and prices rise again.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - FL