Audubon Florida
The Advocate
The 2023 Florida Legislative Session has officially begun! This week we followed Everglades restoration bills, heard resiliency updates, and noted changes to growth management legislation. On a federal level, our Senior Director of Policy Beth Alvi traveled to Washington, DC to meet with elected officials about Florida’s environmental priorities. In good news, last week the Conservation Collier program received a boost when Collier County commissioners voted to approve the next cycle of acquisitions, including conservation land critical for Swallow-tailed Kites, Florida panthers, and so much more.
A Barn Swallow sitting on a stick with its mouth wide open.
Land and Water Funding
In 2014, the Audubon network led the way in supporting the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, which passed overwhelmingly with 75 percent approval from Florida’s voters. Since 2001, more than 800,000 acres have been protected through the Florida Forever program, which enjoys broad public support statewide.

This important funding source also supports projects that protect and restore our springs and rivers, coasts, and Everglades. This year, some of these include:

SB 320 (Sen. Harrell, R-Stuart) and HB 547 (Rep. Sirois, R-Merritt Island) require an annual appropriation of $50 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to implement the Indian River Lagoon Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan, which would include capital improvement projects to reduce nutrients degrading water quality.

SB 602 (Sen. Burton, R-Lakeland) and HB 557 (Rep. Bell, R-Fort Meade) require an annual appropriation of $20 million to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to implement the Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act (which is good) and finance the cost of water supply projects in Central Florida (which may be beyond the scope of voters’ intent for this funding).

SB 928 (Sen. Stewart, D-Orlando) and HB 559 (Rep. Roth, R-West Palm Beach) extend the retirement date of the bond to fund the Florida Forever Act but also revise the distributions for various programs funded by the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, with the biggest change being the $300 million set aside for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

Water protection and restoration are important but local government obligations like wastewater and septic-to-sewer conversions have other funding sources and shouldn't take Land Acquisition Trust Fund dollars that voters intended for land and water protection and restoration.
Barn Swallow. Photo: Paulina Saarinen/Audubon Photography Awards.
Little Blue Heron stands in a marsh.
Everglades Protection on the Agenda
The Senate Committee on Community Affairs, chaired by Sen. Calatayud (R-Miami) had several bills of interest on the agenda, including SB 192.

SB 192, Everglades Protection Area, sponsored by Sen. Avila (R-Miami Springs) will require comprehensive plans and amendments covering land within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area to follow the more rigorous State Coordinated Review Process instead of the Expedited State Review Process, to protect these important Everglades resources from sprawl.

What Does DEP Need To Do?

The bill requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to review land use proposals and amendments covering land within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area to evaluate whether they would adversely impact Everglades restoration.  Additionally, the bill requires DEP to direct the local government how to eliminate or mitigate any adverse impacts to Everglades restoration; the local government will be required to modify the proposed plan or plan amendment to include mitigation measures identified by DEP to avoid adverse impacts to the Everglades.

Why This Matters

With billions of dollars of investments made to date using state and federal funds to restore the Everglades, this bill is necessary to protect those investments and to ensure that unilateral decisions are not made at the local level without oversight and engagement by DEP that will reverse these gains.

Where Do The Protections Occur?

These protections would include the boundary of the Everglades Protection area within Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.  

The House companion, HB 175, is sponsored by Rep. Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables).
Little Blue Heron. Photo: Frances Hudson/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Two Northern Bobwhites stand at the edge of water. Photo: Stephen Pollard/Audubon Photography Awards.
Growth Management Bills Prompt Concern
Legislators discussed HB 439, Land Use and Development Regulations, sponsored by Rep. Stan McClain (R-Ocala) in the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka (R-Ft. Myers).

Why Audubon is Concerned

This bill as filed makes a number of changes to comprehensive planning statutes:

- Changes the current definitions of density.
- Redefines urban sprawl as an unplanned development that requires an extension of public facilities by a local government.
- Expands the definition of an agricultural enclave from 1,000 residents to 1,000 residential units.
- Removes local governments’ ability to deny a development application based on level of service used for planning (this means that insufficient infrastructure such as roads, schools, etc. cannot be the reason a local government denies a development request).
- Requires municipalities to comply with special magistrate decisions should a petitioner challenge a denial for a land use application.

Several improvements were made in committee, including retaining the current ability of the locality to reject the special magistrate’s recommendation and removing the change in definition of an agricultural enclave.

However, more changes are needed to this bill to ensure that cities and towns govern their own land use decisions.

Audubon is following this legislation and many other growth management bills that attempt to take away local control from municipalities and counties. Stay tuned in the next edition of the Advocate newsletter!
Northern Bobwhites. Photo: Stephen Pollard/Audubon Photography Awards.
close up photo of mangrove leaves
Mangrove Restoration Bill Passes Committee
On the agenda for the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (Chair, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral)) on Monday was the Mangrove Replanting and Restoration bill, SB 100, filed by Sen. Ileana Garcia (R-Miami).

SB 100

The bill requires DEP to adopt new rules related to mangrove restoration to complement existing regulations, further goals of Everglades and Biscayne Bay restoration, and address significant erosion in areas of critical state concern. The bill contains several provisions to expand mangrove protections across the state.

An amendment clarifying that bill requirements would not adversely impact Intercoastal Waterway navigability also passed the committee.

The bill passed with unanimous approval.

The House companion, HB 561, was filed by Rep. Mooney (R-Key Largo) but has not been heard in Committee.
Photo: Pixabay.
Two Black Skimmers skim over the surface of calm water.
Funding for the Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation Revolving Loan Fund
The Senate Select Committee on Resiliency (Chair, Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula)) met on Wednesday to listen to presentations on topics that included climate resilience, emergency management funding, and hurricane impacts.

Safeguarding Tomorrow Through Ongoing Risk Mitigation Act 

Kevin Guthrie, Director, Division of Emergency Management, provided the Committee with an overview of the Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation (STORM) Revolving Loan Fund.

The FEMA program authorizes grants to local governments for the purpose of establishing low-interest loans for hazard mitigation process and land use updates. Examples of this would include building resilient infrastructure and flood mitigation measures. The associated updates will ultimately reduce risks from natural disasters.

Director Guthrie announced that Florida has been approved for $10 million of the national $50 million program but requires state legislation to match funds of 10% ($1 million) to participate.
Black Skimmers. Photo: Douglas Cummings/Audubon Photography Awards.
A woman stands in front of the U.S. Capitol building.
Audubon Staff Fly In to Washington, DC
More than 50 Audubon staff, including Audubon Florida’s Senior Director of Policy, Beth Alvi, from 29 states traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with Members of Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration on a variety of issues, including funding for conservation programs, the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, and how natural infrastructure can benefit birds and build climate resilience for communities around the country. Audubon’s national network represents more than 1.9 million members and 450 community-led chapters. 

In total, more than 70 meetings with officials from across the political spectrum were planned for Wednesday, including a morning bird walk on Capitol Hill with Audubon staff, congressional staff, and Members of Congress.
Beth Alvi, Senior Director of Policy visits the U.S. Capitol as part of her meetings with elected officials.
Swallow-tailed Kite skimming over calm water.
Audubon Supporters Protect Conservation Lands in Collier County
Last week, we asked Audubon Florida supporters to tell the Collier County Board of County Commissioners to approve the purchase of Conservation Collier's top-ranked land acquisition parcels. We are excited to report that their emails and attendance made a difference!After an intense round of emails, phone calls, separate meetings, and speaking before the Commission, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve all the ranked properties to be purchased!This was important for two reasons – first, the program is put back on the timely buying track after the disruption of Hurricane Ian, and second, this cycle contains the most ambitious conservation parcels ever pursued, including a Swallow-tailed Kite roost near Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the 7,300-acre Owl Hammock parcel within the Okaloacoochee Slough, which is outstanding Florida panther and Wood Stork habitat.

Congratulations to all the advocates who made this success possible!
Swallow-tailed Kite. Photo: Nancy Elwood/Audubon Photography Awards.
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