Florida is home to a diverse array of conservation lands, from national wildlife refuges to state parks. These lands provide critically important habitat for wildlife, protect our state’s drinking water supply, and offer countless recreational opportunities for millions of residents and visitors. Our lawmakers must act now to fund conservation programs, protecting these vital resources for years to come.
Our state’s natural lands are in dire need of our increased attention and protection. As E.O. Wilson recently wrote in Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, at least 50% of the planet’s lands and waters need to be protected to preserve the Earth’s biodiversity and to prevent mass extinctions. However, our state’s conservation lands account for only about 30% of Florida’s total land area, falling short of this goal. Many of these protected areas are also threatened by nearby development. As these areas become cut off from each other, animals like the Florida panther and black bear suffer. As the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission observed in a 2008 report, by 2060 our state’s conservation lands may become islands within a vast urban landscape.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can build on the foundation of the newly established Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, which seeks to preserve the remaining grasslands of central Florida through both land purchases and conservation easements. This landscape level approach to conservation realizes the vision of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, which was enacted twenty years ago to establish an interconnected network of conservation lands across the country. We can also utilize Florida’s premier land acquisition program, Florida Forever, to purchase some of the state’s most ecologically sensitive lands. We can further protect native wildlife habitats on ranch lands through the use of conservation easements funded by the Florida Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. Using these programs, we can expand on the Headwaters Refuge to protect large swaths of native habitat, maintain important buffer zones from urban development, and preserve critical wildlife corridors.
The public’s desire for land conservation is strong, as the passage of Amendment 1 in 2014 by 75% of Florida’s electorate demonstrates. Now it’s up to our elected officials to realize the shared vision of our state’s citizens. In order to protect our lands, water, and wildlife, the Florida legislature must restore funding to the Florida Forever program and increase its investment in the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. There must also be an increased federal commitment to land preservation in Florida under the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which funds the Everglades Headwaters Refuge. We have a tremendous opportunity to leave an enduring legacy of conservation for future generations. It is now up to our elected leaders in Tallahassee and Washington to make that happen.
As of right now, there is no funding for Florida Forever in this year’s state budget. Click here to tell your state legislators to fund Florida Forever and continue the tradition of land conservation in our state.