Audubon Florida
The Advocate
Week Eight of the 2021 Legislative Session delivered an exciting proposal from both chambers to fund land conservation programs to the tune of $400 million! Such funding would make immeasurable progress protecting Florida’s special places for both wildlife and people. This week also brought news that Senator Marco Rubio signed on to be a co-sponsor of the Growing Climate Solutions Act. We saw an agreement to move the EAA Reservoir Project forward in the Everglades, and much more. As the session barrels towards its close, we are grateful for the support and strong voices of our members and supporters. 
Wood Storks. Photo: Photo: Trudy Walden/Audubon Photography Awards.
Combined $400 Million Proposed for Land Conservation
In the back-and-forth of budget negotiations, Senate appropriators Wednesday continued their support for a proposed $100 million for Florida Forever and added a proposal for another $300 million in pending federal economic relief funding, to be dedicated to Florida Forever acquisitions within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. On Friday, the House budget conferees matched the Senate’s offer on these items, concurring with the funding!

This exciting investment will see important acquisitions in an ecological network identified for its habitat value and connectivity, with the transparency and public accountability of the Florida Forever program.

If federal economic relief funding comes to fruition, this will be a combined $400 million commitment to conservation land acquisition in the coming year! Kudos to both chambers investing in land protection to benefit our economy and ecology.

In addition, both committees agreed to spend $500 million of the federal relief funds for septic to sewer conversions and $100 million towards the clean-up of the Piney Point disaster. The House has also requested $500 million towards the Resilient Florida Trust Fund.

The federal stimulus funding would be in addition to other money in the House and Senate versions of the 2021-22 state budget.  There are other outstanding items that need to be resolved between the two chambers, such as the Everglades Funding proviso, funding for springs, beach management, resiliency, and alternative water supply. 

Unresolved budget issues are “bumped” to the presiding officers and Final Agreements are published as a Conference Report, which must remain open for 72 hours before each chamber votes on the final version.
Wood Storks. Photo: Photo: Trudy Walden/Audubon Photography Awards.
Agreement signing.
New Agreement Pushes EAA Reservoir Forward
Thursday, Governor DeSantis was joined by Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, Chauncey Goss, Chair of the  South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, and the Army Corps’ Lt Col. Todd Polk to sign an agreement that will initiate construction on the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project.

The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board unanimously approved an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that keeps the Corps on track to begin construction on the reservoir component this year. In April 2020, Governor DeSantis announced  that the South Florida Water Management District began construction on the State of Florida’s component (a Stormwater Treatment Area) of the project 12 months ahead of schedule.

“Audubon applauds the Governing Board and the Army Corps for reaching this milestone,” says Beth Alvi, Director of Policy for Audubon Florida. “We thank Governor DeSantis for his continued commitment to Everglades restoration. The reservoir is urgently needed and we are grateful to the state and federal partners for expediting this essential work.”

And not a moment too soon: Yesterday the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they would increase Lake Okeechobee discharges through the Franklin Lock and Dam to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. This announcement was in response to heavy rains that caused Lake Okeechobee levels to rise. The EAA Reservoir Project will benefit Florida’s environment and economy, reducing harmful discharges to the estuaries east and west, and sending clean water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. 
 
A cow in a green field.
Senator Rubio Co-Sponsors Growing Climate Solutions Act
This week, Senator Marco Rubio signed on to co-sponsor the Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2021. The bipartisan GCSA of 2021 helps Florida’s farmers and ranchers be leaders in our efforts to combat the effects of climate change while preserving our farms, ranches, and forests, and protecting our water and wildlife.

The GCSA creates a program to certify technical assistance providers and third-party verifiers for the agriculture and forestry sectors for actions that reduce the amount of air and carbon pollution and for processes to naturally store carbon emissions. The legislation addresses barriers to entry for landowners trying to access carbon markets, and encourages practices guided by science, while also refining protocols that account for cumulative effects, permanence, and leakage of practices. The updated bill also seeks to reduce barriers to entry for historically underserved, socially disadvantaged, and limited resource farmers, ranchers, and foresters.

Click here to learn more.
Indigo Bunting. Tamima Itani/Audubon Photography Awards
Farming Operations Bill SB88 sent to Governor DeSantis
An effort to expand legal protections for farmers is in the hands of Gov. Ron DeSantis, after the House overwhelmingly approved the measure Thursday. The House voted 110-7 to support expanding the state’s “Right to Farm” law, despite multiple concerns expressed by opponents of the bill. SB 88 prohibits nuisance lawsuits filed by people who do not live within one-half mile of the nuisance violations. The bill also limits damages (that could be awarded) to the market value of any property damaged.

The Governor has until April 29, 2021 to sign this bill into law.
Indigo Bunting. Tamima Itani/Audubon Photography Awards
Black-bellied Plover. Photo: Richard Mittleman/Audubon Photography Awards.
Collier County and Army Corps Propose to Armor Coast at Expense of Beaches, Mangroves, and Seagrass
Collier County Commissioners are considering whether to partner on a Coastal Storm Risk Management study by the Army Corps of Engineers that would rely heavily on harmful seawalls and other hard structures along the Southwest Florida coast. The plan as proposed would meet the 21st century challenges of sea level rise and increased storm frequency and severity with the 20th century solution of more seawalls and concrete barriers. 

The Collier County Board of Commissioners will vote April 27 on whether to sign non-binding agreements to be the non-federal sponsor of this multi-billion dollar plan. 

While Audubon supports all agencies and governments taking climate change-driven storm risks seriously, we are very concerned that this proposal features too many flood walls, storm surge gates across major passes, and giant concrete-lined dune walls instead of green infrastructure solutions that work with nature.  

Natural and nature-based features
have received minimal consideration in this plan that should include more mangrove, reef and coastal wetland restoration, all proven ways  to sustain coastal ecosystems while more economically protecting coastal communities.  This plan –  like many other Corps coastal protection plans – does not adequately protect all communities, leaving many low income and communities of color to weather the storm with few protections in place

Revising the plan to work better with nature and more equitably share the benefits of coastal protection efforts is possible and will be Audubon’s proposal from staff and members at the meeting on Tuesday, April 27.
 
Black-bellied Plover. Photo: Richard Mittleman/Audubon Photography Awards.
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