The Senate wants to devote $300 million from the American Rescue Plan allocation toward the Florida Forever trust. That’s an amount unseen in a decade for the trust, but the level many conservation activists say should be a minimum annual contribution.
The budget line topped the first proposal from the chamber of how to spend around $10 billion in federal spending approved by Congress. The Senate plan includes plans on how to spend nearly $3.2 million of that, including cleaning up the Piney Point industrial site.
But it also devotes significant cash toward trusts, including the frequently swept Florida Forever account. The plan comes after the House and Senate came to the table with different amounts set for trust. The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee fully funded the trust, including $100 million for land acquisition through Florida Forever.
The Senate plan, before the federal coronavirus relief package was passed, included half that level of funding, about $50 million. That’s also the amount Gov. Ron DeSantis included in his budget proposal.
But the new Senate proposal for how to allocate the federal spending significantly changes things and could fund the program on a more longterm basis.
Florida Forever is a conservation and recreation lands acquisition program aimed at conserving the state’s natural and cultural heritage.
Specifically, the Senate proposes using the money for the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a decades-long effort to connect ecological greenways throughout the state. As of 2016, the network covered 16.7 million acres of connected wildlife habitats from Florida Bay to the Georgia and Alabama state lines.
Last year, the Legislature, with DeSantis’ support, funded the purchase of an additional 14,000 acres using Florida Forever funding, with 8,000 of those within with Wildlife Corridor.
Florida voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment requiring full funding for Florida Forever, but it has not received full funding since 2011. Environmental activists have said the $300 million level should serve as minimum funding.