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Environmentalists urge governor: Save the ‘Real Florida’

By Staff | Dec 12, 2019

When people think of Florida, they think of palm trees, beaches and sunsets.

But go inland and you see another side, a fragile habitat of thick woods, lush prairies, wetlands pine trees, and birds, reptiles and mammals of all shapes and sizes.

On Friday at 11 a.m. at Prairie Pines Preserve, leaders from the agricultural, business, and the environmental communities will call on Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida’s legislature to restore full funding to Florida’s land conservation programs such as Florida Forever.

This gathering is one of seven across the state, which follow a letter signed by more than 120 Florida businesses and organizations, demanding the state’s elected officials help save what they call the “real Florida.”

Groups expected to attend include Wildheart Ecojourneys, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Ding Darling Wildlife Society, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, International Dark Sky Association Florida Chapter, Sierra Club, FGCU students, and concerned citizens.

Despite more than three-fourths of state voters approving more spending for sensitive state lands through the Florida Forever program, many conservationists believe that the money allocated has been far from adequate.

“We’ve known for several years we have had a shortfall on the amount of money we have received from the state for Florida Forever,” said Diana Umpierre, of the Sierra Club. “We want the governor to ask the legislature to make sure we fully fund Florida Forever.”

“We want to keep Florida Forever funding at the forefront. We want them to know it has not been funded at the amount it could be,” said Haley Burger of the Florida Conservation Coalition. “About $100 million is being proposed for this year, and many believe, rightfully so, that this is only a fraction of what’s needed.”

Burger said that many ecologists, ranchers and conservationists believe that $300 million is still not enough. She said her group has not taken a position on a dollar amount, but have rather said “fully fund.”

In Lee County, Conservation 2020 has helped to buy sensitive lands and preserve them for wildlife and residents to enjoy, but speakers are expected to say that this is not enough and that the state needs to help.

Several wildlife experts in the area are expected to speak at the event, including Rae Ann Wessel of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, among others.

Sister events will be held in Fort Walton Beach, Gainesville, Gulf Breeze, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, and Pensacola as part of the Florida Forever Days of Action on Friday and Saturday.

“We want to give different perspectives of the value of conserving land for education and recreation and for protecting habitat,” Umpierre said. “Wildlife depends on habitat and this funding is long overdue and they need to step up.”

Prairie Pines Preserve is at 18400 N. Tamiami Trail in North Fort Myers.