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Momentum Builds for Florida Conservation Vote

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PHOTO: Wildlife protection groups say the Florida panther is among the species that would see improved habitat protection if a constitutional amendment is passed. Photo credit: Tom Trotta
PHOTO: Wildlife protection groups say the Florida panther is among the species that would see improved habitat protection if a constitutional amendment is passed. Photo credit: Tom Trotta
October 1, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It's about protecting Florida's forests and fish, wildlife and wetlands. A constitutional amendment that would fund conservation projects in the state has the okay of the state Supreme Court, but it won't get on next year's ballot unless supporters collect an additional 300,000 signatures - to reach the goal of more than 680,000.

Campaign manager Pegeen Hanrahan with Florida's Water and Land Legacy Campaign said conservation cuts have been devastating over the past five years, and the amendment would boost critical protections for the state's natural resources.

"Our quality of life depends on it, our economy depends on it, and we think it's important for our children and grandchildren," Hanrahan said.

Supporters have just 59 days to get enough signatures to get the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Defenders of Wildlife Florida program director Laurie Macdonald said the constitutional amendment would ensure there is funding to protect habitat for species special to the state, like the Florida black bear, the panther, manatees, and sea turtles.

"Florida's a really special place with respect to the array of wildlife, just diverse wildlife. But, it also is one of the states with the highest number of imperiled species," Macdonald said.

The amendment sets aside one-third of Florida's existing documentary stamp tax revenues, paid when real estate is sold, and guarantees those funds can be used only for conservation purposes, which include restoring, buying and managing land.

Hanrahan said without it, the state's tourism economy could suffer.

"Nobody's going to want to come to Florida if they hear about murky rivers, if they hear about manatees dying. These are the kinds of things that we want to take proactive stances on," Hanrahan said.

A link to the petition is at http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org.

Alison Burns, Public News Service - FL