Dedicated to the protection of birds, other animals, and their habitats through education and activism
Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170; president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org
As noted in the recent reports from Audubon’s long-term study of the effects of climate change and habitat loss on bird populations in North America, Florida is considered a major Climate Stronghold that provides “essential habitats for migratory and resident birds” Preserving and protecting Florida’s lands and waters is critical to maintain this “stronghold” for the sake of human beings and well as that of the “finned, furred or feathered nations”. There has long been a tradition in this State of popular support for those laws that create, manage, protect or remediate natural habitat that might otherwise be overdeveloped to the detriment of all living systems.
So much of Florida has already been overdeveloped and the local ecosystems have either been destroyed or have been pushed to the redline. When Floridians voted 3 to 1 to support Amendment 1 they assumed that this clearly-worded amendment direct funds from the state documentary stamp to create and manage a Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The voters told their representatives that they wanted a working state legislature that would direct these funds to acquire, protect and manage those natural areas and waters that are cherished by residents, long-term and seasonal, and visitors to Florida. After all, residents and visitors don’t live in or visit the state because they wish to have a view of the loading dock of a warehouse store or an up ramp to another beltway. In a state whose motto has too-often been “Drain, Scrape, Fill and Develop”, Amendment 1 is a clear directive from the citizens of Florida that they wish to both expand and preserve the natural areas of their state.
Many of our state legislators see the Amendment 1 funds as filling a pot of money that is to be mingled with the general trust funds of the State of Florida. On March 19, 2015, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government released its proposal for the $714.2 million projected to be received from the documentary stamp fees this year. This Subcommittee recommendation included a paltry $22 million for land acquisition. These funds would principally be directed to purchase conservation easements along the Kissimmee River; $2 million would be for the Florida Forever program. That is, a mere 3% of the funds available would be allocated for the support of the goals of Amendment 1. This is not the intention of the Amendment that Floridians thought they were voting for this past November. Instead, this recommendation shows an overt and arrogant disregard for the lawful vision of the future of their wild lands and waters that was deeply-set and strongly-cemented into the state constitution by the voters of Florida.
In delivering the Subcommittee’s majority-supported recommendations, Senator Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, the Chair of this Senate Subcommittee, observed that:
The will of the voters is “open to interpretation” and that he’s been flooded with emails and phone calls from people claiming the state doesn’t need to buy more land. [Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida; March 20, 2015; www.theledger.com]
Appropriations Subcommittee member, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge was dismayed at the recommended appropriations and he plans to submit amendments to increase funding for land-acquisition. Senator Altman stated that:
The people of Florida overwhelmingly want to preserve what we have left of Florida…This whole initiative was based on acquiring land and improving it for the purposes of preservation. [Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida; March 20, 2015; www.theledger.com]
After Sen. Hays presented and commented on the Subcommittee’s recommendations, Sen. Altman firmly protested to the Chairman, noting that the committee’s action did not support the Florida Constitution and that their actions were probably “illegal”.
Unless the machinations of those that are attempting to redefine and subvert the clearly-stated language of Amendment 1 are blocked and the prevarications of those in the legislators who serve a few donors rather than the majority of voters—those actual representatives of the bi-partisan will of the residents of Florida—the hollowing out of Amendment 1 goals will only increase the voters’ cynicism about state politics and their distrust of their representatives. Those State representatives and senators who observe the letter of this new Amendment, rather than continue the thousand prevarications and misdirections that Floridians have already witnessed, will gain the voters’ respect. And the houses of our state certainly need this from the voters.