Environmental program 'Florida Forever' marches quietly in tough times

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With little money to spend and new projects out of the question, the state is focusing its current environmental efforts on “connecting the dots” and providing water resource protection through a handful of projects, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

On Tuesday, the governor and Cabinet approved the 2012 Florida Forever priority list, more than 100 projects, ranked in order of importance, where state environmental officials say a parcel is important enough to be saved from development and population growth.

But with limited funds available, the Department of Environmental Protection chose to focus attention during the next 12 months on 14 projects that do not involve outright purchase and will in some cases connect parcels that are substantially complete.

The work list also includes buffer areas around military bases such as Eglin Air Force Base, and Naval Air Station/Whiting Field in the Panhandle and the Avon Park bombing range in Central Florida.

In Southwest Florida, the list included Save our Everglades and Estero Bay restoration efforts.

“It is important to capitalize on those projects that not only protect our state’s critical water resources, but also provide an added benefit of stretching acquisition dollars further,” the Department of Environmental Protection said in its recommendation to the Cabinet.

Collectively, the Florida Forever program has protected over 682,000 acres of land with $2.9 billion in funds through Feb. 29.

But the land-buying effort was under the knife this session as lawmakers filled a $1.4 billion hole in the state budget. In the end, the Legislature found $8 million to put toward managing and lease arrangements, though the state won’t purchase any new land for now.

Environmental groups nonetheless praised lawmakers for coming up with some funds during tight financial times.

“It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was a strong recommitment to the programs,” said Eric Draper of Florida Audubon.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.