|Historic Land Appropriation|
Of note, in addition to $100 million for Florida Forever and $100 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, an additional $850 million appropriation appeared in the budget late last week. These funds are earmarks for habitat conservation in Northeast Florida (the “Ocala to Osceola Corridor” or “O2O”) and Southwest Florida (the “Caloosahatchee-Big Cypress Basin”).
The O2O acquisitions are already identified through the Florida Forever Program as a priority for purchase for conservation and include parcels in Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Hamilton, Lake, Marion, Putnam, Union, and Volusia counties.
The Caloosahatchee-Big Cypress Land Acquisition project in Hendry and Collier counties will protect and preserve approximately 72,000 acres of conservation and agriculture land and includes an option for easement sellers to lease back acreage for a limited time. Lease terms that are favorable for conservation will be key and remain to be negotiated between sellers and the state. Both of these projects would provide critical linkages for wildlife, recreational opportunities for people, and benefits for water quality and carbon sequestration.
This is the largest appropriation for land conservation in Florida history and presents a remarkable opportunity for progress in these two regions of the state. While these acquisitions may be outside the Florida Forever program, it will be important that the transparency and accountability Floridians have come to expect from conservation land buying are applied to these projects too.
Reducing Local Control of Fertilizer Application
Unfortunately, the budget’s implementing bill can become a vehicle for last minute policy changes, circumventing the transparency and accountability of the committee process. Last Sunday night, a troubling provision was added to the implementing bill, blocking local governments from adopting new local fertilizer ordinances or amending old ones over the next year to include a ban or seasonal restrictions on fertilizer application.
Substantive policy changes like this should always go through the committee process where the public has an opportunity to participate in the discussion, and this amendment is a great example why. Floridians are dealing with the increasing severity and intensity of harmful algal blooms and red tides. They want decision-makers at every level of government – including cities and counties – to do their part.
Urban fertilizer runoff into stormwater is a major contributor of nitrogen and phosphorus into our waterways. Reducing fertilizer use is one of their best tools for protecting water quality. A $250,000 appropriation to University of Florida’s IFAS program to study the benefits of fertilizer restrictions is included in the budget, however the timeline for completion of this research is hasty: IFAS must submit a final report, including results and recommendations, by December 31, 2023. This timeline is wholly inadequate for a robust study to be completed, though the reality is, IFAS has been tasked with similar studies several times before, in an attempt by fertilizer marketers to delay further restrictions.