Audubon Florida
The Advocate
This week, Senate President Simpson clarified his position on M-CORES, which aligns with the Task Force recommendations supported by Audubon. Committees heard presentations about red tide, coastal resiliency, and invasive species, while new proposed legislation could jumpstart solar generating facilities and slash fossil fuel use in Florida. This is the last committee week before the 2021 Legislative Session, which begins on March 2.
Wild Turkey. Photo: Steve Green/Audubon Photography Awards.
Senate President Wilton Simpson Clarifies His Position on M-CORES
Senate President Wilton Simpson clarified his position on M-CORES toll roads, which have caused much environmental concern since 330 miles of new turnpikes were proposed in 2019 by his predecessor, Senate President Bill Galvano. 

Simpson explained his concerns regarding the practicality of such a big new turnpike system from a fiscal perspective, and has acknowledged the environmental threats that accompany massive road building.

This week, President Simpson also indicated that he favors extending the Suncoast Parkway north and west about eight miles from SR 44 to connect  with U.S. 19 at Red Level, just north of Crystal River. From there, improvements to U.S. 19 or co-located toll road segments contiguous to the U.S. 19 right-of-way could carry traffic to Interstate 10 in Jefferson County.

Since traffic projections show the existing four lanes of U.S. 19 to be underutilized today, it may be 30 years or more before any substantial widening of U.S. 19 is justified. This concept dovetails with the M-CORES Task Force’s recommendations to use existing roads rather than building new “greenfield” turnpikes through undisturbed lands. It also coincides with Audubon Florida’s recommendations and comments on the M-CORES process. 
Wild Turkey. Photo: Steve Green/Audubon Photography Awards.
Roseate Spoonbill and Double-crested Cormorant. Photo: Andy Long / Audubon Photography Awards
U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers Commits to Big Everglades Restoration Investment
The unique Greater Everglades ecosystem is comprised of diverse habitats and a sweeping watershed that includes over 2.5 million acres. Investing in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) will improve Florida’s environment and water quality; provide mitigation and adaption to rising seas while preventing salt water intrusion from affecting our water supply; protect inland communities; and restore mangroves, improving both carbon sequestration and habitat connectivity. CERP is one of the most detailed restoration plans developed to date and it follows the timeline outlined in the Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS).

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stated that it is primed to move forward with an ambitious schedule and has the ability to invest $725 million per fiscal year for the next four years, beginning in FY22 (totaling $2.9 billion). This action will initiate every single project on the IDS while creating tens of thousands of quality jobs for Floridians. Everglades restoration has always been a bipartisan priority for Florida’s state and federal elected officials. We need all hands on deck to ensure that the importance of this funding request is conveyed to the Appropriations Committees and the leadership within the Biden Administration.
Roseate Spoonbill and Double-crested Cormorant. Photo: Andy Long / Audubon Photography Awards
New Law Could Reduce Barriers to Solar Siting
SB 1008/HB 761 would modernize zoning definitions to reduce barriers to solar siting and help farmers opt in to clean, renewable energy.

Current definitions of allowable uses for land zoned “agricultural” don’t include solar because solar facilities didn’t yet exist when the definitions were written. SB 1008/HB 761 includes a provision to modernize the definition to recognize that solar is a clean, quiet, appropriate use for these lands.  

In many counties, lands designated or zoned for agriculture frequently allow a lot of other uses like landfills, rock mines, auto junk yards, airports, and agricultural processing centers. They also often allow houses to be clustered, leading to subdivisions amidst the farms. As the definition currently stands, it is easier for landowners to site these more intrusive land uses in many places than to lease their land for solar facilities—an injustice given that solar is much more compatible with water and wildlife protection than these other intense uses.

If we are going to replace polluting fossil fuel power plants with non-polluting solar, it’s appropriate to put photovoltaic solar electric generating facilities on an equal footing with other uses allowed in comprehensive plan and zoning districts designated for agriculture.

Solar facilities can help Florida keep farmlands economically viable, meet the threat of climate change, and preserve the water and wildlife benefits of open space.
Solar panels. Photo: Pixabay.
Snowy Egret. Photo: Lindsay Donald/Audubon Photography Awards.
FWC Explains Invasive Species Management
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government met on Wednesday, February 17, to hear a presentation from Melissa Tucker, Director of the FWC's Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, that detailed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) work on invasive plants and animals.

The FWC manages invasive species, including prevention, control, research, innovation, and partner and stakeholder coordination. Their budget of almost $50 million is largely used to control invasive plants, with the remainder dedicated to invasive animals and law enforcement.

Senator Berman stated that the Legislature had passed a bill (SB 1414) in 2020 prohibiting the possession of invasive reptiles like tegus, but that bill was later found to be unconstitutional, and asked Tucker what FWC was doing in response.

Tucker explained that the FWC is engaging in rulemaking and has updated rules similar to the ideas in SB 1414 going before the Commissioners at their February 25 meeting.

Senator Mayfield expressed her support for bans on invasive reptiles and urged the FWC to create strict rules governing their possession. Chairman Albritton reinforced the significance of this issue and the desire of the committee to assist the FWC with their important work on invasive species.

Pythons, iguanas, tegus – all were introduced to Florida through the pet trade and have established populations that continue to decimate our native wildlife. When non-native species spread across our natural ecosystems, agricultural lands, and built areas, they cost taxpayers and private landowners millions of dollars in damages and management efforts each year.
Snowy Egret. Photo: Lindsay Donald/Audubon Photography Awards.
Spotted Sandpiper. Photo: John Wolaver.
Subcommittee Discusses Coastal Resiliency and Red Tide
This week the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee heard two presentations about coastal resilience and protection, as well as red tide research and mitigation efforts.

Coastal Resilience and Protection

Alex Reed, Director of the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), discussed how the DEP-led efforts to protect, restore, and maintain coastal habitats has progressed over the past few years. Reed highlighted efforts by the Office to provide tangible measurement and impacts of sea level rise, as well as climate-driven storm damage.

The Committee also heard a description of the Sea Level Impact Projection (SLIP) Study Tool, with a map showing which areas had completed assessments and projects across the state. Reed stated that $12.1 million in the Governor’s Recommended Budget aims to increase the number of municipalities that could complete sea level rise and vulnerability assessments.

Committee members raised concerns about the issue of bonding to provide the $1 billion in total program funding and grants over the next four years, centered on the potential of future revenue downturns. Reed explained: "We (Florida) are ground zero for climate change and sea level rise. So every little bit that we do, every living shoreline that we implement, every base floor elevation that we raise, we are moving ourselves down the road to a more resilient Florida."

Red Tide

Gil McRae, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), presented on red tide, how and where it forms, and what steps FWC is taking to respond to the algal blooms. McRae highlighted the cooperation between FWC, DEP, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Florida Department of Health to monitor development of red tide, while informing and protecting citizens and the environment from its negative effects.

An overview of the $6.6 million annual recurring appropriation towards red tide efforts was provided, showing that 14% went to the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Task Force and Grants Program, 33% to applied research, and 53% to monitoring and event response. Representative Stevenson asked a question regarding the impacts of biosolids on the development of algae blooms, to which McRae responded that a larger load of nutrients due to runoff from biosolids application sites could increase chances of a red tide bloom.
Spotted Sandpiper. Photo: John Wolaver.
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