Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No Funding for Land Conservation is a Legislative Insult to Voters


Are you one of the 4.2 million voters who supported Amendment 1 in the last election? If so, did you believe a primary purpose of the funding was to finance the purchase of additional natural areas as a way to help protect our water resources, wildlife, rivers, beaches and scenic vistas? The Florida legislature doesn’t believe that is what voters actually had in mind when 75% of them voted for passage of Amendment 1.

Is there another way to explain why the House and Senate budgets include NOTHING for the purchase of land through the Florida Forever Program? Our will as voters is essentially being preempted by the people we pay to represent us in Tallahassee! Unless you like being slapped in the face, let's stop this disenfranchisement once and for all.

$20 million to the Kissimmee River Restoration
project (which is 85% complete) is terrific, but
unacceptable as a budgetary substitute for
Florida Forever project funding.
The Senate budget currently proposes to allocate $2 million to purchase conservation easements. The more “generous” House budget would spend $10 million to purchase conservation easements. Neither chamber proposes to allocate ANYTHING for the purchase of lands that would add to our system of state parks, state forests and wildlife management areas.

Don’t be fooled by smoke and mirrors, like the proposed allocation of $20 million to purchase lands along the Kissimmee River in order to complete restoration of the river. It’s a good project that has been in progress for years and deserves to be funded... but it has nothing to do with Florida Forever.

Amendment 1 requires, in simple-to-understand language, that 33% of annual documentary stamp tax revenues must be dedicated to land and water conservation. Most of us interpreted that to mean a substantial amount of the funding would support the protection of natural areas through the purchase of land. Those revenues are projected to total well over $700 million in the first year alone. Both the Senate and House propose to spend millions to cover existing agency operating costs and fund expensive water supply projects, and NOTHING for Florida Forever.

Contact your Representative, Senator, and
any or all of the politicians listed below to
tell them what you think of the way they've
proposed to spend Amendment 1 funds!
The Legislature’s unwillingness to heed the will of the voters is unconscionable. The overwhelming passage of Amendment 1 is an irrefutable testament to the love Floridians have of their natural areas and the concern we have for their future. Please contact the House and Senate leadership this week and tell them what you think about their budget proposals (contact information is provided at the bottom of this blog). If you can, please take the time to contact your own Representative and Senator as well. Some statements you might want to include in your letters/e-mails:
  • The first year of Amendment 1 spending should allocate at least $350 million for the acquisition of approved Florida Forever projects. That amounts to less than half of first-year revenues!
  • The time for debating whether the people of Florida support additional land purchases has passed. You knew what you were voting for when you voted to pass Amendment 1.
  • Amendment 1 was called the Water and Land Legacy Amendment for a reason. Sewage treatment plants and water supply projects are important, but they aren’t the legacy for future generations that we had in mind on Election Day. Rivers and springs clean enough for swimming and fishing; parks and forests where people can recreate and enjoy nature; beaches where our children can play. THAT is the kind of legacy we want to enjoy for ourselves and leave for those who come after us. 

Top Priority Contacts:

Senate

Senate President Andy Gardiner (Orlando)
Capitol: (850) 487-5229
District: (407) 428-5800
Email: gardiner.andy@flsenate.gov

Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee (Brandon)
Capitol: (850) 487-5024
District: (813) 653-7061
Email: lee.tom@flsenate.gov

Senate General Government Appropriations Committee Chair Alan Hays (Umatilla)
Capitol: (850) 487-5011
District: (352) 742-6441
Email: hays.alan@flsenate.gov

Senate Budget Vice-Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto (Ft Myers)
Capitol: (850) 487-5030
District: (239) 338-2570
Email: benacquisto.lizbeth@flsenate.gov

House

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (Merritt Island)
Capitol: (850) 488-1450
District: (321) 449-5111
Email: steve.crisafulli@myfloridahouse.gov

House Budget Chairman Richard Corcoran (Lutz)
Capitol: (850) 717-5037
District: (813) 792-5177
Email: richard.corcoran@myfloridahouse.gov

House Ag and Natural Resources Appropriations Chair Ben Albritton (Wauchula)
Capitol: (850) 717-5056
District: (863) 534-0073
Email: ben.albritton@myfloridahouse.gov

House Budget Vice-Chairman Jim Boyd (Bradenton)
Capitol: (850) 717-5071
District: (941) 708-4968
Email: jim.boyd@myfloridahouse.gov

Other Important Contacts:

Senator Joe Negron (Stuart)
Capitol: (850) 487-5032
District: (772) 219-1665
Email: negron.joe@flsenate.gov

Senator Denise Grimsley (Sebring)
Capitol: (850) 487-5021
District: (863) 386-6016
Email: grimsley.denise@flsenate.gov

Senator Charlie Dean (Inverness)
Capitol: (850) 487-5005
District: (352) 860-5175
Email: dean.charles@flsenate.gov

Senator Wilton Simpson (Trilby)
Capitol: (850) 487-5018
District: (352) 540-6074
Email: simpson.wilton@flsenate.gov

Vice-Chair of Senate General Government Appropriations Sen. Oscar Braynon (Miami Gardens)
Capitol: (850) 487-5036
District: (305) 654-7150
Email: braynon.oscar@flsenate.gov

Vice-Chair of House Ag and Nat. Resources Appropriations Rep. Ray Pilon (Sarasota)
Capitol: (850) 717-5072
District: (941) 955-8077
Email: ray.pilon@myfloridahouse.gov

Rep. Greg Steube (Sarasota)
Capitol: (850) 717-5073
District: (941) 341-3117
Email: greg.steube@myfloridahouse.gov
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Posted by Laurie Sheldon 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Legislative Update to the F.N.P.S. 2015 Session, Weeks 1 and 2

By the F.N.P.S. Policy and Legislation Committee

Conservation research on the recovery of
Florida Ziziphus (Ziziphus celata) is one of
the projects that this grant previously funded
Native Plant Conservation Funds

In drafting the Senate legislation to restructure trust funds to implement Amendment 1 (SB 584), the termination of the CARL Program Trust Fund within Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) has created the unintended consequence of eliminating the $250,000 annual transfer from the DEP CARL Trust Fund to the DACS Plant Industry Trust Fund for the Endangered or Threatened Native Flora Conservation Grants program. FNPS lobbyist Sue Mullins met with DACS and DEP officials about the unfortunate by-product of this bill, and will meet with House Budget Chair Albritton to rectify the situation. We originally had $300,000 in our budget line item for the program, of which we expect to restore at least $250,000.

The bill restructures the trust funds to implement the constitutional requirement that documentary stamp taxes directed for environmental purposes must not be commingled with the General Revenue Fund and ensures that these revenues are not commingled with other revenue sources and can be tracked from distribution to expenditure. The bill terminates certain trust funds, including CARL, currently receiving documentary stamp tax revenue intended for expenditure on environmental programs.

Water

The House passed its water resources bill, HB 7003 by a
vote of 106-9 in Week 1 and sent the bill to the Senate. The bill offers very little for conservation or pollution reduction, and instead focuses on some controversial proposals related to the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. It combines the Lake O phosphorous pollution control programs with the lake’s Basin Management Action Plan adopted under federally-mandated water quality laws, and preempts the use of a long-standing existing rule that could be used by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to set specific limits on pollution entering state waters. Its approach to Lake Okeechobee also centers on shifting more of the blame and burden to the federal government for the scheduled release of water into the lake.
 
Historic water flow in the Everglades ecosystem:
Lake Okeechobee collected water from the
northern Everglades region, which flowed into
the Everglades of the south. Today, this path
has been greatly altered and polluted, leading
to a host of environmental problems.

The Senate is continuing to work on its land and water bill, SB 918. The bill introduces springs legislation similar to what passed the Senate last year, which was to change water policy that determines when the minimum flow or level of spring water bodies were too low to be viable, as well as provide some progressive pollution control measures. The bill addresses water project funding by creating a new statewide Water Resource Advisory Committee that will give preference to water projects that have a measurable impact on improving water quality or water quantity, those in areas of greatest impairment, those of state or regional significance, those recommended by multiple districts or multiple local governments, those with significant monetary commitment from local or private sponsors, and those that are in rural areas of opportunity. FNPS considers this is a critical element of the bill.

The Senate bill does not include the Everglades or Lake Okeechobee provisions that the House bill contains. FNPS worked extensively with Senate staff on this legislation, specifically to set up the criteria for water project funding that would narrow the kinds of local projects eligible for A1 funds. We know from leadership in both chambers that some A1 dollars will inevitably be directed towards water projects, so the bill was crafted to try to make only those projects that are environmentally beneficial be eligible for funding from Amendment 1 dollars.

FNPS’ primary concern remains with the House’s approach to funding a majority of water projects with A1 dollars. Our estimate is that the FY 2015-2016 request is $1,196,953,572, which is much more than the estimated $757 million projected for doc stamp revenues this year and poses a serious risk that a major portion of the A1 dollars will be devoted to local “pipe and pump” water projects.

Amendment 1 Implementation 


Above: Tate's Hell State Forest, a Florida Forever project.
Florida Forever is the country's premier conservation,
water supply protection, and recreation lands acquisition
program. Investing in these resources is critical to
ensuring water quality and quantity, preserving working
lands, protecting wildlife, providing recreational outlets,
and improving the quality of life for all Floridians.
The Senate introduced its policy framework for Amendment 1 implementation. SB 586 is now out along with the legislation released in January that made “structural” changes to implement Amendment 1. Based on the December 2014 Revenue Estimating Conference, 33 percent of documentary stamp funding will amount to $757.7 million. SB 586 keeps existing programs including Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands program, as well as more funding for land management.

In the 2014-15 General Appropriations Act, the Legislature appropriated more than $3.5 billion to environmental programs. Currently, approximately 20% of documentary stamp tax revenues ($470.8 million) are distributed under s. 201.15, F.S., to trust funds supporting environmental programs. The legislation maintains existing documentary stamp tax distributions to affordable housing, transportation and economic development at their current effective percentages, however, as a result of the 33% distribution to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund required by the constitution, there will be less doc stamp revenue to distribute to the various other trust funds and General Revenue.

All legislative leaders and the Governor made reference to Amendment 1 on opening day of Session March 3. In his address to the House, Speaker Crisafulli said that while the intention of Amendment 1 is good, there is more to good stewardship than buying more land. “Buying up land that we cannot care for, that falls into disrepair or becomes a breeding ground for harmful invasive species is not a legacy that I am interested in leaving,” Crisafulli said. FNPS is already acting to counter claims that Florida’s existing public conservation lands are mismanaged. We are uniquely positioned to know how mistaken this claim is given the continuing role our members play on Land Management Review teams. FNPS is working with DEP to make a presentation to both the House and Senate on the state of Florida’s land management efforts, which are laudable given the limited resources made available to land management agencies. What other state can claim the number of awards our State Park system has received?

The Florida Water and Land
Conservation Amendment (A1)
was approved in November 2014
by 75% of the state's voters.

Senate President Andy Gardiner stressed the need for transparency in how the Amendment 1 money is spent and about the need to address water policy and land management in his opening day remarks. Gardiner has been a proponent of spending money on bike trails including the Coast-to-Coast Connector across Central Florida. “It’s not just the water — it’s the maintaining of these lands,” Gardiner said. “It’s the access for the public to those lands … as well as ecotourism, which I have talked about with bike trails.”

Sugar Land

The final impediment to implementing A1 as intended by voters may be the looming deadline of October 12, 2015 to purchase 26,100 acres of land owned by U.S. Sugar Corp. in the Everglades. The purchase is estimated to cost at least $350 million. The additional land is needed to store water during the rainy season and eliminate harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and provide water supply for the natural system. The SFWMD has the opportunity through a legal option to purchase a 46,800-acre parcel of land optimally located south of Lake Okeechobee, which is touted by Everglades advocates as a cost effective water storage solution to help solve Florida's water crisis. Advocates of this approach include the 56-strong-organization Everglades Coalition, and several SE Florida local governments.


Harvesters cutting sugar cane on U.S. Sugar Corp. land
In a strange alignment of allies and skirmishes, rival sugar company Florida Crystals Corp. is pushing back against the coalition of Everglades and local government advocates who are now running TV ads to use A1 dollars for the purchase of U.S. Sugar property south of Lake Okeechobee, by saying such an effort could “derail” ongoing Everglades improvement projects.

Tension has long existed between Florida Forever advocates and Everglades restoration advocates over environmental spending with limited dollars. The fact that there are $757 million on the table this year for the environment via Amendment 1 exacerbates that tension.

Growth Management 


The D.R.I. review process would be eliminated by SB562
Two bills sponsored by Senate Community Affairs Chairman Wilton Simpson that would alter the responsibility local governments have in approving large developments unanimously passed through the Senate Community Affairs Committee on March 10. SB 562 eliminates the older process of reviewing developments of regional impact (DRIs). The sponsor said it won't bring an end to the scrutiny of large projects, but it will have the effect of taking that review away from the state's 11 regional planning councils. Simpson’s bill would instead put DRI-sized developments through the state "coordinated review" known as sector planning that applies to other major developments. This process allows state agencies to study and comment on plans. SB 484, also sponsored by Simpson, does in fact eliminate the state’s 11 Regional Planning Councils and reassigns their duties to other state agencies or subdivisions, including the review of developments of regional impact. There are valid concerns that as presently written, these bills would further weaken what little is left of Florida’s growth management laws.
Legislative Monitoring

FNPS will continue to track these bills on your behalf, and seek ways to influence their modification or withdrawal.

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Post, hyperlinks and images by Laurie Sheldon

Friday, March 13, 2015

Know Before You Grow: All Lantanas Are NOT Created Equal

Webpage of big-box store selling Lantana camara

By Laurie Sheldon


Lantana camara, commonly known as lantana and/or shrub verbena, can (unfortunately) be found throughout the state of Florida. It is a Category 1 invasive species, according to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. Category 1 species are defined as

"Invasive exotics that are altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives. This definition does not rely on the economic severity or geographic range of the problem, but on the documented ecological damage caused."

These plants are being marketed as "Flowers for Florida" and sold at many big-box home improvement stores. DO NOT BE FOOLED by this rather deceptive advertising. Although they do GROW in Florida, they are in no way FOR Florida.

 

Lantana montevidensis (left), sometimes referred to as "trailing shrubverbena," is another non-native species. Its flowers are pink or lilac with long (8-20mm) corolla tubes.



Fear not - there ARE some native Lantana species which you can plant with confidence in your home landscape! Among these are...

Lantana canescens
Native to the Dade County area, this upright plant has white flowers borne in dense axillary spikes.
Lantana depressa 
Another Dade County native. Unlike L. canescens, its growth is prostrate or decumbent
(it stays low to the ground) and has solid yellow flowers.
 Lantana involucrata
This species grows in the coastal regions of south and central Florida.
Its flowers are white and borne in flat-topped, sometimes involucrate heads.

I hope that you'll remember this brief rundown of Florida's native and non-native Lantana species the next time you're out shopping for plants. Happy gardening!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Tidiness Dilemma

 By Devon Higginbotham

They were driving me nuts!  I have a couple dead Pecan trees in my yard and periodically they drop large dead limbs with gobs of moss.  It’s been a long time since I have seen a green leaf on either of them.  The wood is decayed and crumbly so it’s not difficult to collect the fallen limbs (there are no branches left) but I was dying to chop them down.

Last month, as I lugged another fallen limb to the trash, I looked at one trunk that had slowly dwindled down to 20 ft in height. There is a hole at the base of the tree large enough for a family of hobbits to pass through.  The interior is dark and mysterious and I envisioned a raccoon charging out, obviously very inconvenienced by my snooping into his home, but all I saw was darkness.  No one seemed home.   I suppose it’s time to get rid of them.  My neighbors had been quietly asking the same question.  “Why is she keeping those behemoths?  What an eyesore!”

So I thought, “It’s time to take them down!”  I made a mental note to call my neighbor, Jerry, the next day and have him push them over with his tractor and drag the hulking masses of decaying wood to the trash.  I would be rid of them!  My yard would be tidy once again.

But, the next day, while walking past one dead trunk (that’s all that’s left), I heard the rat-a-tat-tat of a Woodpecker.  Looking up I saw the shy creature as he slipped around to the backside out of view.  I suppose the Woodpeckers are still finding insects in the wood, but the trunks look so dead!  The Woodpeckers will find food in other trees!
Last week, as I listened to Shari Blisset-Clark talk about Florida Forest Bats, she described how bats spend the day in hiding in hollow trees and craggy bark and I thought about the Pecan snags in my yard, ideal habitat for sleepy bats.  “Maybe”, I thought, “I should let them linger”.  The bark was perfect for slumbering creatures and the gaping hole in the trunk must already be home to multiple species of wildlife, even though I don’t see them.

Then today, as I tidied my yard, I heard the distinct call of the Red-shouldered Hawk.  Looking up I caught a glimpse of two hawks mating at the very top of one of the snags!  “Yeah”, I thought, “the snags are staying”!
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posted by Laurie Sheldon