Opinion

Do you love Robinson Preserve? Tell Florida to fully fund this land conservation program | Opinion

Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the passage of Amendment 1, Florida’s Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Florida voters showed their overwhelming support for saving our most important places, passing the amendment with 75 percent approval. Unfortunately, our work is far from done as the legislators continue to divert this funding to other uses.

Since 1968 Floridians have voted to tax themselves to save our unique lands, springs, and Everglades. The tax revenue source has been real estate document stamps which is an elegant way to fund land conservation; as land development booms and busts so does the funding for land conservation.

Locally, Florida Forever funds were used to purchase Robinson Preserve in Northwest Bradenton in 2003 and Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast’s headquarters, Bay Preserve at Osprey, in 2006. Both parks are open to the public, free of charge, giving equal and unique access to our non-beach waterfront

In addition, Conservation Foundation has allowed Sarasota Crew to use Bay Preserve as their headquarters since 2008. Florida Forever also protects ranchlands like Triangle Ranch, which is across the road from the north entrance to Myakka River State Park and has three miles of the Myakka River running through it. Saving land adjacent to water, salt or fresh, is an excellent and cost effective way to ensure high water quality and prevent flooding as the land acts as a natural filter of our pollution and holder of storm water. Plus, natural lands attract wildlife, which in turn attract people because, let’s face it, natural lands are just much prettier to look at than water treatment facilities and storm water retention ponds.

Then, in 2009 legislators stopped funding Florida Forever. There are now over two million acres of important water protection projects, beaches, springs, and other vital natural areas waiting to be conserved. Probably the most important in our area is 5,764 acres of ranchland that is vital to North Port’s drinking water. It, and the other two million acres across the state waiting to be protected, are vulnerable to unwise development decisions and deep funding cuts.

Our one-of-a-kind natural resources are coming under immense development pressure with almost 1,000 people moving to Florida every day. Ironically, people move to Florida because it is beautiful and unique. Visitors list being close to nature as their number one priority, and more people come to view wildlife in Florida than any other state! Our natural places and species are unique, like our first magnitude springs, the Florida scrub jay and panther.

If we cannot protect our unique waters and lands our economic growth will suffer. Sustaining economic growth requires sustaining our natural environment by finding balance; meeting our needs today without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs. Simply put, we cannot kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Important wildlife habitat and natural areas have been languishing on the Florida Forever priority list since 2009 with zero to little funding. We must ensure that our cherished lands and beautiful waters are protected now and for future generations. The best way to do that is to fund Florida Forever as we voters overwhelmingly decided five years ago. We don’t have much time left to protect our special places before they are lost forever.

You voted, and it’s time for your legislators to listen. Florida needs Florida Forever fully funded.

Christine P. Johnson is the president of Conservation Foundation of the Gulf (www.conservationfoundation.com), a not for profit land conservancy working in the five coastal counties from Manatee to Collier.

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