Audubon Florida
The Advocate
While Audubon is glad to see good water and resiliency bills clear hurdles this week, we are concerned about lack of funding designated for Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands programs, as well as worrisome provisions allowing the combination of easements and mitigation. We will continue to push the House and Senate to allocate additional funds for these essential land conservation programs.

Meanwhile, the City of Fort Myers voted to join the Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact, and our very own Paul Gray won an award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service for his work on the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.
Little Blue Heron. Photo: Teri Franzen/Audubon Photography Awards.
Statewide Resiliency Plans May Soon be a Reality - Florida House’s “Always Ready Flooding and Sea Level Rise Agenda” is on the Governor’s Desk
Two bills that aim to address the adverse effects of sea level rise and flooding caused by climate change have sped through the House and Senate committees and are on their way to the Governor. One part of the legislation, HB 7019 (Rep. Busatta Cabrera, R-Coral Gables), and its Senate companion, SB 1954 (Sen. Rodrigues, R-Estero), creates the Resilient Florida Grant Program within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), authorizing the Department to provide grants to local governments to help combat rising sea levels.

The bill provides $100 million in grant funding to local governments to fund resiliency planning and supports vulnerability assessments and mitigation plans to prepare for the threats of flooding and sea level rise. The bill authorizes counties to enter into agreements to form regional coalitions to plan for the resilience needs of communities and to coordinate intergovernmental solutions. The bill requires DEP to develop a comprehensive statewide flood vulnerability and sea level rise data set by July 2022. By July 1, 2023, DEP must use the data to complete a comprehensive statewide flood vulnerability and sea level rise assessment. The bill also creates the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation within the University of South Florida College of Marine Science. The data would be used to inform a Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan, which would be updated and submitted to the Governor and the Legislature every three years.

A complimentary bill, HB 7021, also filed by Rep. Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables), and its Senate companion, SB 2514, filed by Senate Appropriations, guarantees funding for the projects mentioned in HB 7019/SB 1954 by establishing the Resilient Florida Trust Fund within DEP. The trust would also cover the cost to implement the plan, the operation of the grant program, the grants, and the administrative and operational costs of the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation.

So, where are the funds coming from?

While climate change appears to be a bipartisan issue in the legislature this year, the vehicle to fund these programs is not. This week, the House and Senate budget committees passed bills, HB 5401 and SB 2512, that would sweep two-thirds of the money that would go into affordable housing into a wastewater grant program and the resiliency program to address the problems caused by flooding and sea-level rise across the state.

Currently, funds from the affordable housing trust fund go to the State Housing Initiatives Partnership and the State Apartment Incentive Loan program, which provide grants to local governments for down payment assistance to qualified new homebuyers, housing repair assistance, and provides developers with an incentive to build low-cost housing. Most legislators were supportive of the state moving forward with much needed resiliency initiatives, several others were not pleased that affordable housing funds would be permanently reduced to pay for the new programs.

It should be noted that the Affordable Housing Trust Fund will receive $40 million more this year compared to the previous fiscal year.
Little Blue Heron. Photo: Teri Franzen/Audubon Photography Awards.
Osprey. Photo: John Wolaver.
Lake Okeechobee Watershed
A priority for Senate President Simpson, the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) north of Lake Okeechobee, provides for storage options north of the lake. This week, the Senate unanimously approved SB 2516, a bill that aims to expedite the authorization of LOWRP and subsequent implementation of parts of the plan. The bill was approved as a conforming bill linked to the Senate’s budget bill SB 2500 and provides $50 million annually from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the plan.
Osprey. Photo: John Wolaver.
Chipping Sparrow. Photo: Hazel Erikson/Audubon Photography Awards.
Promising Bills Move Through Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government
SB 7060 (Sen. Brodeur, R-Lake Mary) passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government on Thursday, taking on a “delete all” amendment that removes a provision requiring staff from DEP to ask for and to receive consent from a landowner prior to entering a permitted biosolids application site to collect water quality samples. This type of language that provides access is already included in the permit and therefore not needed to be included in statute.

Also passing the Appropriations Subcommittee was SB 1522 by Sen. Stewart (D-Orlando), the Blue-Green Algae Task Force Recommendations Bill. The bill aims to strengthen Florida’s water quality protections beyond the provisions of last year’s Clean Waterways Act. The bill offers us a chance to implement the scientifically sound recommendations made by the Blue-Green Algae Task Force. The House companion, HB 1225 by Rep. Goff-Marcil (D-Maitland), has not been heard in committee.

The Land Acquisition Trust Fund Bill, SB 1480, by Sen. Brodeur (R-Lake Mary), also passed unanimously. The bill would extend authority for Florida Forever to finance acquisition of land or conservation easements by issuing bonds. The bills seek to extend Florida Forever bond capacity from 2040 to 2054.

Florida’s population grows daily, and we need to prioritize acquisition and proper management of recreational or conservation lands for the people of Florida. The House companion, HB 1173, filed by Rep. Roth (R-West Palm Beach), has not been heard in committee yet.
Chipping Sparrow. Photo: Hazel Erikson/Audubon Photography Awards.
Wood Stork. Photo: Lorraine Minns/Audubon Photography Awards.
Florida Forever Needs More Funding
Two weeks ago, the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee unveiled its fiscal year budget for 2021-22, topping out at $4.1 billion. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government rolled out a $6.1 billion spending plan.

Water and Everglades are important bipartisan issues in Florida and fared well in the House and Senate budgets. The House budget included $288 million for Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and $29 million for the Northern Everglades and Estuary Program (NEEP); the Senate’s budget included $272 million for Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and $71 million for NEEP. Read more about the budget here.

The House budget also included $100 million for land acquisition through the state’s premier land buying program, Florida Forever, similar to what was appropriated in the last fiscal year. The Senate plan includes only half that amount, mirroring the Governor’s budget request of $50 million.

Florida Forever is a conservation and recreation lands acquisition program, which aims to conserve the state’s green spaces. In the past, this program has received as much as $300 million a year. The Rural and Family Lands Program (used for conservation easements on agricultural properties, keeping land from being developed while allowing ranchers and farmers to continue operating on the land) often receives an allocation from the amount appropriated to Florida Forever. This program is managed within the Florida Department of Agricultural Services. However, in the current Senate budget all $50 million for Florida Forever has been allocated towards conservation easements and is to be managed by the Department of Environmental Protection.

A worrisome provision would allow the landowner to use this easement for mitigation purposes. Wetland loss in the state a significant problem and is reaching a critical point. More protections and more stringent oversight of mitigation programs are needed. Additionally, using public lands to mitigate wetland loss is not in the public interest. Further, allowing for mitigation on a publicly funded easement does not make up for loss of wetlands on private lands.

The House has allocated $50 million for management of our award winning state parks, with the Senate allocating only $30 million. As a result of the pandemic, our state parks have seen record visitation as Floridians and out- of-state visitors alike have enjoyed open spaces. Audubon will be advocating for higher levels of funding to better manage this resource.
Wood Stork. Photo: Lorraine Minns/Audubon Photography Awards.
Reddish Egret. Photo: Tim Timmis/Audubon Photography Awards.
Southwest Compact Takes Another Stride Forward
On Monday, the Fort Myers City Council unanimously voted to join the emerging Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact. Audubon Florida staff and Audubon of Southwest Florida Chapter President, Gerri Reaves, met with Fort Myers City Councilman Bochette and Councilwoman Bonk to advocate for and discuss the Compact and its many benefits.

Fort Myers joins the Compact along with twelve other jurisdictions in the Southwest Florida region; cities and counties that agree to join the Compact commit to collaboratively identifying and addressing the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, intensifying hurricanes, and erosion. Members will share scientific data and planning tools, develop a unified action plan, and support one another as they prepare for, adapt to, and mitigate climate change impacts.
Reddish Egret. Photo: Tim Timmis/Audubon Photography Awards.
Paul Gray. Photo: Dustin Angel
Paul Gray Wins U.S. Fish and Wildlife Award
Paul Gray, Ph.D., Everglades Science Coordinator, was selected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to receive an award for his efforts as part of “Team Sparrow,” otherwise known as the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group.

The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group — established 20 years ago as a way to share knowledge between different agencies managing sparrows — has proven to be an invaluable forum for working through expected and surprise issues. It is comprised of state and federal agencies, managers, researchers, captive breeders, and NGOs.

“Audubon is a founding member of the working group and it has been a long hard haul to get this far, but the partners stuck together, and there looks to be light at the end of the tunnel for the sparrow,” said Gray. Read more here.
Paul Gray. Photo: Dustin Angel
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