The Florida Legislative Session kicked off in March and wrapped up in May. The final House and Senate budgets underscore the importance of Florida’s environment for our continued quality of life. Of the total $117 billion state budget, funding buckets for the Everglades, land conservation, and the Indian River Lagoon were a big focus, with more than $1.6 billion allocated towards water and Everglades restoration (table below). More than $1 billion has been set aside for conservation.
The budget includes $64 million for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir and more than $350 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, key pieces of the overall Everglades restoration puzzle.
Historic Land Appropriation
Of note, in addition to $100 million for Florida Forever and $100 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, an additional $850 million appropriation appeared in the budget in the final week of the session. These funds are earmarks for habitat conservation in Northeast Florida (the “Ocala to Osceola Corridor” or “O2O”) and Southwest Florida (the “Caloosahatchee-Big Cypress Basin”).
Of these two regional focuses, the Caloosahatchee-Big Cypress Priority Area encompasses much of the Western Everglades. This project in Hendry and Collier counties will protect and preserve approximately 72,000 acres of conservation and agriculture land and includes an option for easement sellers to lease back acreage for a limited time. Lease terms that are favorable for conservation will be key and remain to be negotiated between sellers and the state. Both of these projects would provide critical linkages for wildlife, recreational opportunities for people, and benefits for water quality and carbon sequestration.
This is the largest appropriation for land conservation in Florida history and presents a remarkable opportunity for progress in these two regions of the state. While these acquisitions may be outside the Florida Forever program, it will be important that the transparency and accountability Floridians have come to expect from conservation land buying are applied to these projects too.
This article appeared as part of the Spring 2023 State of the Everglades Report. Read the entire report here.