If Gov. Rick Scott's proposed $74.2 billion budget passes the Legislature intact, it would include $75 million for conservation land projects spearheaded by the Florida Forever Coalition. The 2013-2014 budget also includes $60 million for Everglades restoration and $6.5 million for restoring springs.
What would that $75 million for Florida Forever Coalition mean for South Florida and keystone issues like climate change? A good deal, says Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, which is part of the Coalition's steering committee. He said the money will be used to "buy endangered lands for state and local park" use.
While expansive development in southern counties like Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach make it difficult to secure land for conservation and public use, there are several proposed projects in the region that could benefit from the funds.
Included on the group's "Board of Trustees Florida Forever Priority List" are 15 "climate change lands projects," which speak to the Audubon's heavy involvement in the issue of global climate change. Three of those 15 projects, including the No. 1 contender, are located in Monroe County, which Draper said is a unique area of focus for several reasons.
"The Florida Keys ecosystem is very important in that it's an extremely rare habitat," Draper said. "It's loaded with species that you just don't find other places." He noted that birds use the Keys and Miami-Dade County as stopovers during their annual migrations.
Also on the list of potential benefactors of the budget are: Pal-Mar (Palm Beach County), Dade County Archipelago (Miami-Dade), Pembroke Pines Raintree Park (Broward), Madden's Hammock (Town of Miami Lakes), Intracoastal Park (City of Sunny Isles Beach), Hallandale Beach Post Office Property (Hallandale Beach), Rivermont (Fort Lauderdale), and SE 5th Community Park (Delray Beach). The full list of projects for the state orders them in terms of priority and includes the size of each parcel of land.
State legislators are currently looking at Scott's budget. They will write the final budget to take effect on July 1. Draper is encouraging Audubon members and other environmental advocates to contact their legislators in support of the budget increases for environmental projects.
The Florida Forever Coalition, created in 1999, allocates money for public land acquisition through various state agencies and Florida Community Trust grants to local governments. In addition to Audubon Florida, the Coalition consists of Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Recreation and Park Association, Florida Wildlife Federation, 1000 Friends of Florida, and the Trust for Public Land.