It’s the third interim committee week in preparation for the 2024 Florida Legislative Session and Audubon has had a busy week not only in Tallahassee but in Washington, DC too!
Committees focused on funding, hurricanes, and invasive species. On Wednesday, Audubon Florida's Executive Director Julie Wraithmell spoke in Washington, DC at the House Subcommittee for Water, Wildlife and Fisheries in support of the Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Enhancements Act of 2023. We need this legislation to form partnerships across migration flyways to best protect birds and the places they need.
State Agencies Present Budget Requests to Florida Legislature
On October 17, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) presented their budget requests for FY 2024-25 to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indialantic).
- Commissioner Wilton Simpson stated his agency’s focus this year would be on reforestation efforts in hurricane-hit areas and requested $15 million towards this effort. The division of forestry manages 58 state forests as well as the Babcock Ranch Preserve. In addition, Sen. Simpson requested funds to increase Best Management Practice cost-share support (from $50,000/per farmer to $150,000/per farmer) for farmers in hurricane-hit areas.
- FDACS requested $15 million for regional nutrient-reducing water retention projects on agricultural lands to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff in BMAP-focused areas. FDACS’ BMAP program, housed within the Office of Agriculture and Water Policy, has a vital role in the implementation of DEP’s restoration plans.
- Commissioner Simpson requested $300 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. While $100 million remains from the appropriation to this program two years ago, he anticipates that the funds will be spent by January of 2024. The Commissioner further explained that FDACS has approximately $200 billion in potential opportunities for the program.
While funding for land conservation is always a priority for Audubon, it is critical that these easements and land purchases use established criteria and a public process to make acquisition decisions.
- The Governor’s Executive Order 2306 earlier this year called for $3.5 billion towards water and Everglades restoration over the next four years. This year, DEP is requesting $1.2 billion for water and Everglades restoration, $206 million for statewide resilience and coastal protection, $175 million for Florida Forever, Florida Communities Trust, Florida Recreation Assistance Development Program, and state parks, and $211 million for environmental clean-up programs.
This is a robust budget and Audubon is strongly supportive of this level of funding to protect and restore our environment.
- The agency’s total budget request for this fiscal year is $189 million, 89% of which is in non-recurring funds. Core themes for funding are: Go Outdoors ($31.6 million), the Florida Wildlife Corridor ($56 million), Resilience ($37 million), Public Safety and Resource Protection ($52 million), and Operations ($13 million).
Stay tuned for Governor DeSantis’ budget recommendations, which should be released at least 30 days prior to the scheduled annual regular session—by December 10, 2023.
Audubon will report on the details.
Eastern Bluebird. Photo: Robert Van MieropAudubon Photography Awards.
Melissa Tucker, Director of Habitat and Species Conservation at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, addressed the House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Buchanan (R-Osprey).
There are over 500 invasive species currently living in Florida, as our sub-tropical climate makes it a hospitable space for them to thrive. Unfortunately, their impacts on native species and habitat is substantial, including effects from the introduction of disease as well as their ability to eat native species.
Costs to manage their impacts can be as high as damages from major storms and hurricane events.
Since 2012, the FWC has removed 15,000 tegus and 17,500 green iguanas. 1,061,793 lionfish have been removed since 2014, and more than 19,000 pythons since 2000. Additionally, some local governments have removal programs, and the FWC works with partner groups to leverage resources to address this growing problem in Florida.
The Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District, Drew Bartlett, also shared details of his agency’s invasive species management programs and focused on their invasive vegetation management programs.
The state’s water management districts are charged with flood protection and water supply needs, but often invasive plants clog up canals that are meant to allow for the flow of water. Barriers cause loss of water flow capacity, infrastructure damage, and water quality problems. Additionally, invasive plants can overrun wetland marshes, impeding their ability to store and clean water.
The district expends vast resources to eradicate and remove this vegetation. They use a combination of tactics that include biological/integrated pest management, as well as chemical, mechanical, and cultural practices (including public engagement) to manage invasive vegetation.
Preventing the establishment of invasive exotics is always less expensive and more effective that attempts to eradicate them later. Getting ahead of these nuisance species saves taxpayer dollars and natural resources.
Audubon Florida Testifies in Washington, DC
This week, Executive Director Julie Wraithmell testified before a U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee in support of legislation to expand funding for migratory birds and the places they need to survive. More than half of our nation's birds migrate to and from Latin America and the Caribbean. The bipartisan Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Enhancements Act would help invest in their habitats on a hemispheric scale.