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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
Four people standing at a boat ramp.
Audubon Joined Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland for Tour of the Everglades
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland joined Audubon staff members Jerry Lorenz, PhD, State Director of Research, Kelly Cox, Esq., Director of Everglades Policy, Jon Paul Haydocy, Field Biologist at Everglades Science Center, and other Everglades stakeholders for an Everglades National Park-led tour of Florida Bay.

The field trip served as a fitting end to an exciting Everglades Coalition Conference, held in Coral Springs. Secretary Haaland’s Saturday evening keynote highlighted the importance of collaboration, federal investment, and tribal leadership in the restoration planning process.

More than two dozen attendees boarded boats for the tour of the park, rounding out the end of the Secretary’s first trip to the Everglades. The boats explored the iconic seagrass flats of Florida Bay, rich with tiny invertebrates and small fish, then motored to East Cape Canal (home of the groundbreaking restoration work described here). Participants spotted manatees, dolphins, American White Pelicans, crocodiles, and so much more.

“Audubon couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to get out on the water with Secretary Haaland in Florida Bay. Secretary Haaland immediately connected with the Bay and applauded our community’s collective efforts toward restoration,” says Cox. 
Above: (Left to right) JP Haydocy, Secretary Haaland, Kelly Cox, and Jerry Lorenz. Below: American Flamingos. Photo: Bonnie Burgess/Audubon Photography Awards.
Two flamingos standing in shallow water with reflections.
Highlights from Governor DeSantis’ Budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024
Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis released his budget recommendations totaling $114.8 billion for fiscal year 2023-2024. This budget is a $3.9 billion increase over the FY 2022 budget of $110.9 billion. Chris Spencer, Director of Policy & Budget for Governor Ron DeSantis presented the budget to the House Appropriations Committee (Chair Rep. Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach)) and Senate Appropriations Committee (Chair Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze)), for their consideration. Scroll down to see the budget highlights.

This budget recommends more than $1.1 billion for Florida’s Everglades and environment, with an additional $406 million dedicated to protecting Florida’s communities from flooding and from the risk of rising seas while prioritizing natural infrastructure. These recommendations, together with his executive order, recognize that investments in Florida’s environment will pay dividends into the future.

While the Governor makes budget recommendations to the Legislature, it is the Legislature that determines the state budget each year. The budget is the only bill the Legislature is constitutionally required to pass each year. 
A spreadsheet with budget line items and costs.
A boardwalk through a prairie with tall pines
New Bike Paths Coming to Florida?
The Senate Transportation Committee (Chair Sen. Nick DiCeglie (R-Indian Rocks Beach)) discussed SB 106, sponsored by Sen. Brodeur (R-Sanford), which proposes to both build on the successful Florida bicycle trails network as well as better integrate it with the Florida Department of Transportation’s Florida Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Program and the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

The bill proposes to expand the paved trail network along already disturbed areas like fire lines and utility right-of-ways. SB 106 increases the annual amount allocated for the SUN Trail Network from $25 million to $50 million while also appropriating $200 million to the Department of Transportation to boost the planning, design, and construction of the SUN Trail Network. It received unanimous approval in the Senate Committee. SB 106 does not yet have a House companion and has been referred to its final committee (Senate Appropriations).

Why it Matters

The Florida Wildlife Corridor, which extends from the Keys to the Panhandle, includes nearly 10 million acres of conservation land. The bill prioritizes the development of regionally significant trails that will connect multiple counties, provide opportunities for ecotourism, and showcase the value of Florida’s unique ecology and wildlife.
A boardwalk through wet prairie. Photo: Luke Franke/Audubon
A marsh bird stalking through the reeds.
Florida Springs Need More Support
The House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R- St. Johns)) received briefings by Dr. Robert Knight, Executive Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Deputy Secretary Adam Blalock on the condition of Florida springs and what needs to be done to restore and enhance them.

Background

Dr. Knight has a long history of working to study and protect Florida’s springs; places of incredible natural beauty. Florida is the premier location to visit springs and is home to more large springs than any other state in the country.

Dr. Knight outlined the major problems facing springs which include reduced spring flows as a result of excessive groundwater withdrawals, high nitrogen levels due to run-off from agricultural and urban fertilizer, pollution from wastewater spray fields, septic tanks, and biosolids, as well as insufficient water for fish and manatees that live around springs and spring runs.

Deputy Secretary Blalock provided an overview of the implementation of the Springs and Aquifer Protection Act and details on the 13 springs restoration plans that are being implemented by DEP. While $400 million has already been spent on restoration, much more needs to be done with a focus on reducing nutrient pollution inputs together with regulatory enhancements.

Why it Matters

Springs that discharge an average of 100 cubic feet of water per second or more are called first-magnitude springs. Florida has 33 recognized first-magnitude springs scattered across the north and eastern panhandle where the limestone of the Floridan Aquifer forms unique and cavernous underground formations. It is important to note that in North Florida, groundwater is a major source of our drinking water. Additionally, the Florida environment is a huge economic driver. Tourism at our iconic springs brings in more than $1 billion to Florida’s economy annually.
Clapper Rail. Photo: Bill Dix/Audubon Photography Awards
A mother bird flying in to her nest with food for chicks.
Affordable Housing Updates in Senate Community Affairs Committee
The Senate Community Affairs Committee met on Wednesday to discuss SB 102, sponsored by Chair Alexis Calatayud (R-Miami). The bill is intended to address the growing affordable housing crisis in Florida and is a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples). The bill passed with the unanimous approval of the committee.

Why it Matters

Florida has a serious lack of affordable housing. Audubon is following the passage of this bill to ensure there are no unintended environmental consequences while recognizing the need for more options for the workforce in the state.
Purple Martins. Photo: Leslie Scopes Anderson/Audubon Photography Awards
A wading bird standing in shallow water
Protecting Communities from Storm Impacts
The Senate Select Committee on Resiliency (Chair, Sen. Ben Albritton) met on Thursday for presentations by Wesley Brooks (Florida's Chief Resiliency Officer), Syd Kitson (Babcock Ranch), and Pepper Uchino (Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association). Their presentations were summarized in our previous Advocate, available here

Committee members engaged in discussion about best practices for land planning to reduce the risk of chronic flooding in communities. They also discussed the concept of buy-outs of homes and infrastructure in flood-prone areas and funding streams (both state and federal) that could be put towards this effort.
Willet. Photo: Jim Rodenfels
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Audubon Florida
4500 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 350, Miami, FL 33137
(305) 371-6399 | fl.audubon.org

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