Supporters call for continued Florida Forever funding

10/14/09 Seán Kinane
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A host of supporters, including several former Governors, are calling on the State Legislature to resume funding for the conservation program known as Florida Forever. Former Governor Bob Martinez says that because of bonding, it will only take a small investment to fully fund the program.

Bob Martinez: “It is no a large amount of money. It’s $15 million to get $300 million. growth is paying for it by virtue of paying the documentary stamps. We know that last year was a tough year in Tallahassee and my guess is it may be tough in 2010 as well. But I don't think we have the Everglades competing either, we took a very large sum of money cause of land acquisition that was advocated by the state. I don't believe we'll have that as competition either. So our hope is that between now and the time we adjourn in May so that we will be able to make the case to the majority if not all the House and Senate members to put that 15 million dollars in the budget."

Cypress Point Park opened last year. It is located in West Tampa on the shores of Tampa Bay and was purchased using conservation funds. On Wednesday morning, representatives of the Florida Forever Coalition held a press conference near the beach in Cypress Point Park to stress that the Legislature should resume the funding that was cut off to the program last year. Governor Martinez says that although lands have been purchased in Hillsborough County and around the state, “the job’s not completed.”

Bob Martinez: "There is a tremendous amount of acres from Key West to Pensacola that are sensitive for environmental reasons, which are needed by roaming habitat like the bear and the panther which are needed to recharge our water resources to have the potable water to be certain that those who live here have adequate supply. Also, it is becoming a great eco-tourism business and the more diversity you have in land acquisitions to protect a diverse wildlife population and plant system we have got, the more eco-tourism is going to improve."

Martinez was joined by representatives from environmental groups and by Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. She says Florida Forever takes into account a long-term perspective, rather than the typical politics of short-term gain.

Pam Iorio: "Florida Forever was conceived by then governor bob Martinez in 1990, in order to save Florida's environmental lands. It has been used over those past couple of decades as a great tool for local governments to use for leverage for example here in Hillsborough County with our ELAP program, a voter funded initiative. We have been able to use Florida Forever as a partner in acquiring environmentally sensitive lands."

Because of the depressed value of property during the recession, Iorio says it’s a great time to invest in lands and it’s the wrong time to de-fund programs like Florida Forever. Laurie Macdonald, Florida program director with Defenders of Wildlife in St. Petersburg, says that the state’s unique location makes it even more important to conserve lands.

Laurie Macdonald: "This has resulted in this tremendous variety of habitat types. this tremendous variety of wildlife species that inhabit our wetlands, our uplands, the coast, the rivers, our ancient scrub habitats all of this to make it a very different place from anywhere else in the world. So whether it is for economic reasons, whether it is for ecological reasons,whether it is for enjoyment reasons, let's protect Florida Forever itself, let's fund Florida Forever as it should be."

Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan represents the Trust for Public Lands, which she says focuses on lands for people, just like Cypress Point Park. “More than 30 [counties] across the state have purchased properties like this that, again, bring Florida closer to the people that love her.

Pegeen Hanrahan: "The Florida Community Trust Program has allocated more than 60 million dollars over the course of a long period of time for city and town government to take those local voter approved programs, like Mayor Iorio spoke of the ELAP here in Hillsborough County, more than 30 across the state have purchased property's like this that again bring Florida closer to the people that love her."

Wednesday’s press conference also coincides with the release of the Florida Forever 2010 conservation photography calendar.

Florida Forever Coalition

Defenders of Wildlife

Gainesville Mayor & City Council

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