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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
This week we saw bills that will dedicate funding for conservation and amend the state’s stormwater regulations, as well as several much-needed bills that will improve environmental health for our wildlife and communities. Next week will be the start of the much-anticipated budget conferences. Finally, we’re carefully watching the efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers as they work to lower the water level in Lake Okeechobee. There’s never a dull moment in the Sunshine State!
close up of a black bear
Troubling Black Bear Legislation Workings its Way Through Florida House and Senate
HB 87, Taking of Bears, by Rep. Shoaf (R-Port St. Joe), and its Senate companion, SB 632, by Sen. Simon (R- Tallahassee), create the “Self Defense Act.”

The act specifies that a person who uses lethal force to take a bear is not subject to any administrative, civil, or criminal penalties. The bills include broadly written language allowing Floridians to kill black bears if they feel threatened.

The State of Florida’s constitution establishes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and grants FWC the regulatory and executive powers of the state concerning wild animal life, freshwater aquatic life, and marine life. This law, if passed, will be unconstitutional and could force the state to spend tax dollars defending against a valid legal challenge.

The Florida black bear historically roamed throughout the state, but now lives in several fragmented areas.  As the populations of both humans and bears have expanded, there has been an increase in human-bear conflicts, particularly in residential areas, where bears often search for food. People and bears can live compatibly together with a few careful provisions, and the FWC has successful programs that subsidize the purchase of bear-proof trash cans to avoid attractive nuisances that drive negative human-bear interactions.

The House passed the bill last week and sent it to the Senate for consideration. The Senate made a change to make clear the self-defense protections wouldn’t be available to people who lure bears with food or for purposes such as for training dogs to hunt bears. The amended bill will have to be considered again by the House.

The solution to rising negative interactions between bears and people is well-funded programs educating and assisting communities with bear-proofing. If the FWC were to entertain creating a rule to address personal protection, it would need to be much more narrowly defined than this expansive and unconstitutional legislation, to ensure the provision is not abused.
Black bear.
Photo of a white bird with wings outspread on a beach.
Establishing Dedicated Funding for Conservation
On Friday, the Florida Senate passed SB1638, Florida’s Compact to Conserve, sponsored by the Dean of the Florida Senate, Sen. Hutson (R-St. Augustine). The legislation commits revenues available through the Compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe to establish dedicated funding for the acquisition and management of Florida’s conservation lands and clean water infrastructure.

HB 1417 by Rep. Buchanan (R-Osprey) was voted favorably through the House Appropriations Committee this week (Chair, Rep. Leek (R-Ormond Beach)). Read more about it here.
White Ibis. Photo: Caroline Prevost/Audubon Photography Awards.
A shiny blue bird perched in greenery.
Mitigation Bill Moves Forward
HB 1073, Mitigation, by Rep. Truenow (R-Tavares), was amended to match its Senate companion and passed the Infrastructure Strategies Committee this week (Chair, Rep. Payne (R-Palatka)). This bill expands the scope of applicants that may engage in water quality credit trading to offset development impacts. This is in anticipation of more stringent permit requirements should the stormwater rule be ratified. The bills also authorize private entities to solicit proposals to use conservation lands owned by local governments to create mitigation banks. Read more about it here.
Purple Gallinule. Photo: Marti Phillips/Audubon Photography Awards.
A large, gray wading bird in flight over water.
Stormwater Rule Ratification
We were glad to see that SB 7040, Ratification of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Rules Relating to Stormwater, sponsored by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and Sen. Harrell (R-Stuart), passed the Senate and is being sent to the House. The rule will amend various components of the state’s stormwater regulations, including minimum performance standards and operation and maintenance of systems.

Under the new rules, applicants for stormwater management systems will have the flexibility to choose from a range of design options when designing systems to meet the performance-based design criteria. This rule will ensure stormwater discharges from new development are effectively treated for nitrogen and phosphorus and will not continue to contribute to environmental concerns such as harmful algal blooms.
Great Blue Heron. Photo: Zachary Vaughan/Audubon Photography Awards.
A songbird perched on a branch.
Much-Needed Bills for Our State
Flood Disclosure, SB 484, by Sen. Bradley (R-Fleming Island) and HB 1049, by Rep. Hunchovsky (D-Parkland), require property owners to disclose to prospective buyers whether the property has been damaged by flooding, whether flood-insurance claims have ever been filed, and whether owners had ever received federal assistance for flood damage. SB 484 passed favorably through the Fiscal Policy Committee (Chair, Sen Hutson (R- St. Augustine)) and is now on the agenda for the Rule Committee next week.  HB 1049 passed favorably through the Judiciary Committee (Chair, Rep. Gregory (R-Lakewood Ranch)) and is referred to the House calendar.

SB 1386 by Sen. Calatayud (R-Miami) also passed favorably in the Fiscal Policy Committee, its last committee of reference, this week. This Department of Environmental Protection bill addresses a variety of issues, including:

- Resiliency funding
- Septic tanks
- Wastewater
- Reclaimed water

Its House companion, HB 1557, by Rep. Chaney (R-St. Pete Beach), has been referred to the Fiscal Policy Committee. Read about it here.
Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo: Donald Sawin
A view of aquatic vegetation on a large lake.
Water Discharges from Lake Okeechobee
Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they would be discharging water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries to lower lake water levels. While water levels in Lake Okeechobee have been too high for the lake to be healthy, water discharges could create conditions for harmful algal blooms on both coasts.

To keep Lake Okeechobee healthy and avoid harmful discharges in the future, we must continue moving towards the goal of a fully restored Everglades. Audubon has been advocating for Everglades restoration for more than 100 years, a goal that will deliver dividends of both a healthy ecosystem and resilient South Florida communities.

Until there is storage north and south of the lake, the lake and the estuaries will have to share the adversity of too much water. These releases come at a time when Lake Okeechobee's marshes are already drowning, before the rainy season has even started. With few good options, water managers are in the tough position of having to divide modest hardship among many interests in the hopes of sparing any one interest having to  bear it all.

We must continue creating additional water storage infrastructure projects, like the EAA Reservoir, including those north of Lake Okeechobee. And, we must continue to fully fund Everglades restoration to maintain the current pace, with more projects breaking ground and coming online than ever before. 
Lake Okeechobee. Photo: Kelly Cox/Audubon Florida.
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