Reports Show Need for Increased Land Protection Funds (FL)

TALLAHASSEE, FL 1/11/2006 – The conservation, parks, and environmental organizations that make up the Florida Forever Coalition — and an array of legislative leaders — today released two new reports that demonstrate the need for greater funding to protect Florida’s future by buying land for parks, the protection of natural resources, recreation, and many other public benefits.

The two reports detail a total need of $18.3 billion to bring Florida’s parks and recreational facilities, wildlife and wilderness protected areas, and other public-benefit open space to a level necessary for the state’s booming population, which now exceeds 18 million. $18.3 billion represents the total necessary funding from a range of sources – the state’s Florida Forever Program, cities and counties, federal agencies, and charities – to meet Florida’s parks and open space needs.

The “Florida Parks in the 21st Century Report” is posted at the bottom of this page

Based on these findings, the Coalition believes that Florida Forever and other existing public funding is unable to keep pace with the rapid conversion of open land to residential and commercial development.

Senator Paula Dockery of Lakeland, Chair of the Senate Environmental Preservation Committee and the original House sponsor of the Florida Forever Act in 1999, said: “As a long time supporter of both Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever, I understand the value and the power of protecting Florida’s parks and natural areas. Unfortunately, our Florida Forever money does not go as far as it did under Preservation 2000. These reports underscore the critical need to protect our natural resources and the future of Florida – and suggest the need for additional or accelerated funding.”

Mayor John Marks of Tallahassee, representing the Florida League of Cities, stated: “Here in Tallahassee, we understand the importance of parks and open space to the quality of life of Floridians. This is why the City of Tallahassee has worked diligently to make our Parks and Recreation Department Best In America.”

Representative Stan Mayfield of Vero Beach, Chairman of the House Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Committee, remarked: “I’m supportive of our conservation programs, and I am particularly interested in seeing the State conserve land wisely and strategically. I think we’ve accomplished this, and we’re going to keep working toward that end.”

The two new reports find that:

  • $8.3 billion is necessary to create and improve parks and recreational facilities sufficient for Florida’s surging population — according to “Florida Parks in the 21st Century: A Sound Investment for a Growing State,” a report co-produced by The Trust for Public Land, Florida Recreation and Park Association, and the Florida League of Cities.
  • $10 billion is needed to protect threatened and endangered plants, animals, wildlife habitat, clean water, and other ecosystem functions across Florida to keep our state functioning as voters wish — according to “Protecting Wild Florida: Preserving the Best and Last Wilderness of Florida, Forever,” a report produced by The Nature Conservancy.

Eleanor Warmack, Executive Director of the Florida Recreation and Park Association, said: “Parks are power – the power of community, health, education, family, and economy. Parks are Little League, senior exercise programs, after school care, and family gatherings. Parks are our future. There is no more sound investment than in Florida’s parks and open space.”

Greg Chelius, State Director of The Trust for Public Land, said: “Just as Florida has unmet needs for roads, schools, and water supplies, we have substantial existing needs for parks, open space, and the protection of our common heritage. If we fail to invest adequately in green infrastructure – Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust — we will lose forever the opportunity to protect some of Florida’s most important places.”

Victoria Tschinkel, State Director of The Nature Conservancy, stated: “Voters wholeheartedly value our way of life in Florida and want their elected leaders to protect it. We are here today to show what needs to be done given our incredible rate of growth to keep the beautiful state of Florida we love healthy and accessible to residents forever.”

Charles Pattison, Executive Director of 1,000 Friends of Florida, stated: “As growth management continues to evolve in Florida, we see land acquisition as a key component for success. Land conservation programs – which are market-based and non-regulatory – are one of the very best tools used to manage growth.”

Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida, remarked: “The birds and other wildlife that make Florida such a special place depend on conservation lands. As farms and forests are converted to subdivisions, we must save enough habitat so that Florida’s 118 imperiled species are not lost forever.”

Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation, said: “Florida needs ongoing and strengthened conservation and outdoor recreational lands funding to assure a future for Florida’s wildlife and native habitats and places for Florida’s citizens and visitors to enjoy nature – a difficult task in a state that is bursting at the seams with rampant growth and development.”

Laurie Macdonald of Defenders of Wildlife remarked: “This is the point in Florida’s history where we say that we value our heritage and will protect our future. We need to invest in Florida.”

Kevin McGorty, Treasurer of the Alliance of Florida Land Trusts, stated: “The Florida Forever program has provided the ways and means of working with private landowners to save Florida’s unique resources. Continuation of this vital program is essential for the state to retain its natural beauty for this and future generations.”

Questions & Answers

What is the Florida Forever Coalition seeking with the announcement of these new reports?

In documenting and describing the need for additional land conservation funding based on these two comprehensive and detailed assessments, the Coalition is asking the Legislature and other decision-makers to work with us to find ways of meeting Florida’s substantial land conservation funding needs. In the days ahead, the Coalition expects to make specific legislative proposals based on the findings of these studies.

Is the Coalition asking for $18.3 billion in State funding?

No. $18.3 billion is the total necessary for parks and conservation needs from all sources – funding from cities and counties, federal agencies, private and charitable sources, and the state through Florida Forever. The Coalition believes that protecting and providing essential parks and conservation resources is a shared responsibility for the public, nonprofit, and private sectors through partnerships, innovative policies and programs, and other means.

Why does this funding need exist?

Florida is the fastest growing state in the nation. We are over 18 million people, and we are growing by more than 1,100 on average every day. Skyrocketing land values, speculation, and continued development put great pressure on Florida’s natural systems, and hundreds of acres of important land for parks, natural areas and community open space are lost every day.

How rapidly is the price of land increasing in Florida?

As the cost of land increases, the ability of government agencies and nonprofit organizations to protect important open space decreases. The rapidly increasing cost of open space across Florida is reflected in (and probably exceeds) the price of new houses. The statewide median price of an existing single-family home in June 2005 was up 31% from last year to $248,700, according to the Florida Association of Realtors. In five years, the median sales price of a Florida house has more than doubled.

Do the two new reports address the need for infrastructure funding?

Yes, “green” infrastructure — parks, trails and bike paths, wildlife preserves, historic sites, working agriculture, and hunting and fishing areas — are all essential to the quality life in Florida. They also have major economic benefits by attracting tourists, sustaining property values, ensuring agricultural productivity, and providing jobs. Thus, parks and public open space represent a form of infrastructure — green infrastructure – that is critically important to growing, healthy, and prosperous communities. Florida Forever addresses these green infrastructure needs through Florida Communities Trust, the Division of State Lands, and other programs.

Florida currently faces a backlog of state funding for traditional infrastructure – roads and bridges, schools, sewer and water services – that exceeds $35 billion. The purpose behind the enactment of last year’s Growth Management law was, in part, to meet that. The Coalition believes that Florida must also increase its investment in green infrastructure.

What are the findings of “Protecting Wild Florida: Preserving the Best and Last Wilderness of Florida, Forever”?

“Protecting Wild Florida” identifies approximately 2.6 million acres that are the most critical lands needed to sustain Florida’s water resources, natural habitat and ecosystem functions such as providing clean air and abundant food supply. Preserving natural resource lands is also essential for clean air, abundant food supply, nutrient and energy recycling and transfers, predictable climate and rainfall patterns, a vibrant economy fostered through tourism, forestry, agriculture, fisheries, and a high quality of life. Preservation of the natural system function of these lands can be accomplished through acquisition, conservation easements, innovative planning, or other techniques.

What kind of data was used to establish the estimated natural resources needs for determining the best and last Florida wilderness lands to preserve?

The Nature Conservancy used four primary data sources to construct its Landscape-Scale Focal Areas map. These include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Strategic Habitat Conservation Areas, the Florida Natural Areas Inventory’s Habitat Conservation Priorities, the University of Florida GeoPlan Center’s Ecological Greenways Network and The Nature Conservancy’s ecoregional portfolio site analysis. The acreage needed for conservation estimated under this analysis is approximately 2 million acres, and is conservatively estimated to cost $5,000 per acre, for a total of $10 billion. The cost-per-acre figure is based on a conservative projected cost, at today’s fair market value for conservation land, and does contemplate the use of less- costly conservation easement purchases.

This combination of data layers was used in concert with the Conservancy’s extensive field knowledge of existing statewide biological resources and land ownership details to cull from current Florida Forever projects and potential preservation projects the highest quality habitats and most biologically diverse natural resources, including important watersheds and viable aquifer recharge lands. The areas were prioritized to include only those most critical to meeting statewide conservation goals in current law. The lands, and the greater landscape-scale focal areas depicted in the map, were further analyzed to reveal the most strategically located linkages to forge landscape connections that best protect entire ecosystems.

Do the lands that fall within the blue cross-hatched areas on The Nature Conservancy map indicate that all of that land should be purchased for conservation?

No. The blue “Landscape-Scale Focal Areas” are simply those large areas that convey the biological boundaries of existing, viable natural resources as viewed by the scientific community, and therefore suggested as a future path or corridor for conservation projects. These areas were the focal point of analysis by the Conservancy and other science professionals when determining the locations of the best remaining natural resources, with an emphasis on providing sufficient, connected habitat to support the genetic viability of populations of wide-ranging vertebrate species and landscape-scale conservation hubs vital to providing ecosystem services on which Florida’s human and wildlife populations depend.

What are the findings of “Florida Parks in the 21st Century: A Sound Investment for a Growing State”?

“Florida Parks in the 21st Century” catalogues $8.3 billion in both land conservation and park development needs of local governments. Co-produced by the Florida Recreation and Park Association, Florida League of Cities, and The Trust for Public Land, the report includes figures that are derived from the parks and recreation needs contained in the locally approved Comprehensive Plans of Florida’s cities and counties.

Under the state Growth Management Act, every Florida municipality is required to include in its Comprehensive Plan an element that identifies desired amounts of and services for parks, public open space, and recreational opportunities – such as neighborhood parks, bike paths, ball fields, tennis courts, public pools, exercise and fitness programs, soccer and Little League programs, environmental education, and much more.

Florida’s local parks professionals estimated that the following needs — totaling $8.3 billion – exist today:

Land acquisitions necessary (*)–$2.580 billion
Renovation and repair necessary–$1.897 billion
New facilities necessary–$3.784 billion

(*) Land values differ because they are estimated by local parks departments.

How was the data in “Florida Parks in the 21st Century: A Sound Investment for a Growing State” compiled?

In mid-2005, the Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department — on behalf of the Florida Recreation and Park Association, the Florida League of Cities, and The Trust for Public Land — sent a survey to the parks and recreation departments in every city and county in Florida. Approximately 60% of all parks departments responded to the survey. As a result, the $8.3 billion figure is likely less than the actual total of community parks funding need.

This is the second time that the Florida Recreation and Park Association, the Florida League of Cities, and The Trust for Public Land have collaborated on a report documenting local parks and open space funding needs. In 1998, the three organizations published “Toward Greener Florida Cities,” which found that $4.7 billion was necessary to create and improve Florida’s parks and recreational resources.

Does “Florida Parks in the 21st Century: A Sound Investment for a Growing State” estimate what will be necessary to provide parks and recreation in the future?

No. The report’s estimated financial need for land acquisition, renovation and restoration, and new recreational facilities represents the current demand in order to meet the needs of today’s Floridians. As Florida grows in the future, more and more parks and recreational facilities will be necessary.

Is there any double-counting in the two reports?

No. The two reports address distinct needs for land protection. One report – “Protecting Wild Florida” relies on science to determine ecological importance and ecosystems functions. The other — “Florida Parks in the 21st Century” – relies on local Comprehensive Plans and their specific parks and conservation needs.

Do the reports include the State’s planned purchase of Babcock Ranch?

Yes. The protection of Babcock Ranch — the 74,000-acre property in Lee and Charlotte counties that the State agreed to buy in December 2005 – is included among the needs cited in “Protecting Wild Florida.” The opportunity to preserve Babcock Ranch demonstrates both the success of Florida Forever and the overwhelming statewide need for additional funding for Florida Forever.

The cost of this one property ($350 million) would drain much of the remaining Florida Forever funding. Further, Babcock Ranch sits in just two counties, and Florida Forever exists to serve the land conservation needs of the entire state – all 67 counties and over 300 cities. All cities and counties have a broad range of critical land conservation priorities that can not wait. The Coalition believes that we must find a way to help Florida’s communities protect their unique natural and cultural heritage.

Do the reports address the need for land management funding?

No and Yes. There are major continuing costs for invasive species control, creation and maintenance of public access on public lands, timber harvest management, and other land management practices. The Nature Conservancy’s “Protecting Wild Florida” report does not include those needs and focuses on land acquisition for wildlife and habitat in the face of rapid development and increasing land values.

At the same time, “Florida Parks in the 21st Century” includes a figure of $1.9 billion for park renovation and repair. This category is the funding needed to provide and improve public enjoyment of local parks.

Do the reports address Everglades restoration?

No. “Protecting Wild Florida” includes land acquisition that is identified as necessary to preserve habitat, hydrology, and ecosystem function for Everglades ecosystem restoration. The full funding needed for all aspects of Everglades restoration, however, is not included.

What are the past accomplishments of Florida Forever and its predecessor, Preservation 2000?

Florida’s unprecedented commitment to land conservation began decades before other states contemplated the need for preserving their wilderness and open spaces for public benefit. The Save Our Rivers, Preservation 2000, and Florida Forever programs have each been based on science and willing sellers. State agencies with varying responsibilities and authorities (DEP, DACS, DCA, FWCC and the five WMDs) have worked collaboratively and cooperatively to protect for future generations some of the most beautiful, unique, and rich landscapes in all of America. Florida’s 2.2 million acres now under public protection is unparalleled in any state of its size and represents its citizens’ and public servants’ commitment to a lasting natural legacy.

What is the Florida Forever Coalition?

The Coalition is an alliance of conservation, parks, and environmental nonprofit groups united in their dedication to the protection of Florida’s most important lands through the State’s Florida Forever Program. The members of the Coalition are The Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, The Florida Recreation and Park Association, Audubon of Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation, 1,000 Friends of Florida, Defenders of Wildlife, the Alliance of Florida Land Trusts, and other groups.