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Florida Forever Day held at Prairie Pines

By Staff | Dec 23, 2019

CHUCK BALLARO Conservation advocates waves their signs before a Florida Forever Days of Action rally at Prairie Pines Preserve in North Fort Myers on Friday.

Conservationists and local business leaders gathered at Prairie Pines Preserve in North Fort Myers on Dec. 13 to demand that Gov. Ron Desantis and the state Legislature fully fund the Florida Forever program for the purchase of conservation lands throughout Florida.

One of the best things communities can do to help the environment is foster land conservation – it protects the water and helps species of animals from becoming extinct, supporters said.

However, the Florida Forever program has been neglected by state leaders, according to conservationists, who said they have not been contributing anywhere near what is needed to keep up.

Local session was part of a weekend of Florida Forever Days of Action rallies held on Dec. 13-14 in North Fort Myers and in six other communities across the state.

In 2014, 75 percent of Florida voters approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment to help restore land conservation funding. Conservationists say that has been woefully shortchanged, with recent appropriations at about $100 million, about one-third of what they were before the economic downturn.

“There is a $12.5 billion need and everyone has a priority list. At current expenditure rates it would take 172 years to buy the land, but we’re losing 10 acres an hour. We don’t have that time and if we want to save these lands, we need to do it now,” Gladys Delgadillo, of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said.

Delgadillo was joined by Diana Umpierre of the Sierra Club, Rae Ann Wessel of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Liesa Priddy of the Florida Conservation Group, Sarah Ashton of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge and Ian Easterling of Wild Heart Ecojourneys.

Also joining them were dozens of supporters with signs demanding action.

Umpierre said many species of animals, especially insects, are in decline, many of which are nocturnal pollinators and are being threatened by noise and light pollution.

Wessel talked about the water, which is vital to life, and how conserving sensitive lands will help save our drinking water, our economy and way of life.

“They collect, filter and recharge our water into the underground aquifers, where 90 percent of our drinking water comes from,” she said as advocates waved signs behind her. “Florida can’t support a growing population without sustaining wild land to support our water needs.”

Wessel added that water feeds the economy, which Easterling spoke about to round out the speaking lineup.

While Conservation 20/20 has helped buy sensitive land in Lee County and has been successful, not every county has such a program. Wessel said she was glad people came to demand action for what they need.

“Since 2009 the Legislature has not funded Florida Forever to the levels they did prior to then ($300 million). It all comes from the real estate taxes, so it’s growth paying for growth,” she said. “Conservation 20/20 was supported by 84 percent of voters because we realize the things that fund our economy are association with wild land. There’s overwhelming support for these things.”