ADVOCATE: Updates on Land Conservation Discussions, Gov. Scott's Environmental Budget & More

State lawmakers were back in Tallahassee this week to prepare for the 2018 legislative session for their second committee week. Get the scoop on what happened this week in Tallahassee.

State lawmakers were back in Tallahassee this week for their second committee week in preparation for the 2018 legislative session starting in January. To accomplish our policy goals, Audubon Florida will advocate at the Capitol and enlist your support. We will also work with other allies to accomplish shared goals.

Check out the latest updates in this edition of the Audubon Advocate.

Governor's Environmental Budget Recommendations Grab Headlines Statewide, Put Focus on Audubon Priorities

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced his environmental budget recommendations at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples and at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. The budget recommendations put additional focus on land conservation, parks, springs and Everglades and estuary recovery during the upcoming legislative session. These areas are Audubon’s state spending priorities for protecting water and wildlife. Read more in Tampa Bay Times.

Sen. Bradley Named Champion of the Everglades, Celebrated for Passing Landmark Everglades Bill

State Senator Rob Bradley was presented with Audubon’s Champion of the Everglades Award at the Audubon Assembly in St. Augustine for his leadership in Everglades conservation. Senator Bradley addressed Florida’s largest conservation gathering and spoke to the ecological importance of the Everglades.

“I am extremely honored to be recognized by Audubon Florida,” said Senator Bradley. “The ecological importance of the Florida Everglades reaches far beyond our state. I’m proud to have sponsored the legislation that will reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and will allow for a large volume of water to be cleaned, stored and moved south into the Everglades and Florida Bay.”

In Case You Missed It: In the last edition of the Audubon Advocate, we shared that Sen. Bradley filed Senate Bill 370 (SB 370) to appropriate $100 million annually to Florida Forever, the state’s signature land conservation program. This bill is a first of its kind commitment from legislative leadership to fund land conservation in Florida, and we are grateful he is now tackling land conservation and working to protect natural Florida. Read more about Sen. Bradley's award.

House and Senate Committees Receive Update on Everglades Legislation and Express Interest in Land Conservation Funding

This week, South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks presented an exciting update on the progress of Senate Bill 10 (2017) to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment & Natural Resources and the House Natural Resources & Public Land Subcommittee. SB 10 was signed into law earlier this year and advances the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir. Public meetings have already begun to develop the project in line with the aggressive timelines set in the law.  

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources and the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee held hearings on land conservation and environmental spending. David Clark, Director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands, presented at the committees and emphasized the importance of land conservation programs and state parks. James Karels, Director of the Florida Forest Service, also made the case for land management partnerships. By the comments of committee members, Clark and Karels were received well in both the House and Senate subcommittees.

In the House, Chairman Ben Albritton seemed interested in funding key land conservation programs like Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. Just last week, the Governor and Cabinet approved an important Rural and Family Lands project for conservation (see story below). In the Senate, Chair Lauren Book also expressed an interest in Florida Forever.

Florida Approves Corona Ranch Conservation Easement, Saves 2,525 Acres of Critical Wetland Habitat

The Governor and Cabinet agreed to purchase a 2,525-acre conservation easement on Corona Ranch in Okeechobee County this month. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services put the deal together with help from the Florida Conservation Group. Funds came from the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, which has now conserved more than 38,000 acres of ranch and timber lands.

The Corona Ranch plays a critical role in our efforts to protect the Lake Okeechobee Watershed and the drinking water for millions of people in urbanized areas. Located less than a mile from the Kissimmee River, the ranch contains significant wetlands that are crucial to Kissimmee river restoration efforts. The landowners are voluntarily restoring these valuable wetlands. Read more.

Audubon Meets With Interior Secretary on Everglades Nat'l Park and South Florida Ecosystems

Audubon Florida’s Pete Frezza recently attended a meeting with Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to discuss issues relating to Everglades National Park and South Florida ecosystems. Frezza reports the meeting included discussions about Everglades restoration, Hurricane Irma recovery, Flamingo reconstruction, the park’s maintenance backlog, proposed new user fee increases, and the establishment of a park advisory council. Secretary Zinke assured Audubon of his and the Administration’s commitment to advancing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects as planned. Secretary Zinke also recognized the significance of water storage and treatment projects south of Lake Okeechobee as important toward improvements in our estuaries including Florida Bay.  

*The Governor’s budget recommendations also included $50 million for State Parks, which includes ongoing management expenses.

Audubon Florida's Legislative Priorities

Land Conservation Funding

Audubon supports agency budget requests for Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program that recommend strong funding for land acquisition and conservation easements. Audubon is seeking $150 million for land conservation including Florida Forever and Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

Everglades Funding 

With the successful passage of the Legacy Florida Act in 2016 and Senate Bill 10 in 2017, we must continue to follow through on commitments to restoring America’s Everglades. Audubon supports the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Legislative Budget Request that seeks $305.8 million in Everglades funding- the largest single request ever by the agency.

Springs Funding     

Funds appropriated by the Florida Legislature can be combined with other funding sources to increase the investments to Florida’s Springs that advance projects and programs to improve water quality and increase freshwater flows. Audubon is seeking $50 million for Florida’s Springs.

Other Issues

Audubon is seeking $5 million for Lake Apopka Restoration. Audubon is also supporting the State of Florida in litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court that seeks to resolve a decades-long debate about how water can be allocated between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Audubon is monitoring this case closely.

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