Once again, the legislature failed to fully fund Florida Forever, but it appropriated $126.2 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year, the highest amount in 15 years.
Florida’s natural resources are true treasures of our state. From our world-renowned beaches to the Everglades to our precious wildlife habitats, these resources are critical not only for driving tourism and the state economy, but also for maintaining biodiversity in the face of growing threats to the environment. Environmental preservation and management are critical functions that maintain a safe environment for all Floridians, including preserving ecologically sensitive land, protecting air quality, managing and conserving state parks, promoting parks and recreation, managing hazardous waste, cleaning up contaminated sites and protecting water quality.
Unfortunately, the Sunshine State’s investment in conservation and environmental protection has eroded over the past couple of decades, resulting in such severe ecological problems such as the toxic algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee and red tide threatening our western coastline. In 1990, the Florida Legislature passed the Preservation 2000 Act, which authorized $3 billion in bonds for a range of conservation programs. Over the subsequent decade, these programs were able to preserve 2 million acres of land. In 1999, the Legislature renewed its commitment to conservation by passing the Florida Forever Act, authorizing $300 million in bonds for 10 years to support conservation efforts. However, starting in 2008, the Legislature began to significantly reduce or eliminate funding for the program.
In more recent years, the Legislature has made investments in large-scale projects such as Everglades restoration. These are, however, remediation efforts. The state has continued to under-fund proactive measures for preservation and conservation that would work to prevent environmental problems.
As the state's conservation efforts have decreased, natural disasters have intensified. Hurricanes continue to increase in number and become more forceful, requiring the state to pay careful attention to our natural barriers and develop quick and equitable strategies to mobilize disaster responses. The intensity and frequency of natural disasters is likely to increase in coming years, as will the cost of damages, because of rising temperatures.
As stewards of some of the richest biodiversity in the nation and as a state in the path of an increasing number of hurricanes, Florida must fully invest in environmental conservation programs and equitable disaster recovery and rebuilding efforts.