Facing a thicket of candidates and ballot measures in the November election, Florida voters sent one resounding message to elected officials: More must be done to protect the state’s natural habitats — including the long-suffering Everglades. But as the Legislature heads into the final days of this year’s session, Republican leaders are being criticized for the way they are divvying up a $750 million pool of money created to buy, conserve and restore land and water resources. It was established when three-quarters of Florida voters approved constitutional Amendment 1, which sets aside part of a real estate tax.
Supporters of Amendment 1, an environmental ballot measure that passed last year with a resounding 75 percent of the vote, are bracing for a legal battle with legislators over how to spend a $740 million windfall. The showdown looms with less than a week left in the regular 2015 session. Lawmakers have set aside no more than $20 million next year for Florida Forever, the state’s public land acquisition program. Environmentalists had expected at least $300 million when the ballot measure passed less than six months ago.
It’s been 19 years since investigative reporters Bob Malloy and Will Bourne wrote how money and political influence contributed to the demise of water quality and the seagrass/coral reef ecosystems of Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. The story reads like a Greek tragedy. Everglades Foundation founders George Barley and Paul Tudor Jones featured large in the 7,925-word epic. According to the story, Barley bought into bad science promulgated by Joseph Zieman, a University of Virginia seagrass biologist, and his colleague, Ron Jones of Miami’s Florida International University; Tudor Jones bankrolled the development of their wrong conclusions. Meanwhile, water quality in Florida Bay and the upper Keys worsened because of it.
Ah, for the freedom of a billionaire environmentalist. Is there a more hypocritical, more protected species on this planet? No matter how many times I see and write about one of these creatures spouting some crashingly sanctimonious Life Lesson he doesn’t live by — and getting away with it because he’s … well … an environmentalist — I’m blown away when it happens again.
Calling the deal too costly with too little benefit, the South Florida Water Management District board on Thursday effectively canned a 2010 deal to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar land that it once considered critical to restoring the Everglades and coastal estuaries. Instead, board members voted to back a $5 billion restoration plan mapped out by Gov. Rick Scott for the next 20 years that does not include the land.
Burmese pythons munch marsh rabbits in Everglades National Park faster than any native predator, confirming what biologists already suspected: The invasive snake is changing the balance of the park’s food chain. Two years ago, researchers determined that as the python population climbed in the park, the number of small mammals declined. But they couldn’t prove for sure that one caused the other.
In Tallahassee you can be a gutsy champion for the Everglades, or just another lame shill for Big Sugar. You can’t be both, though some politicians try to pretend. Check out Steve Crisafulli, the Republican speaker of the Florida House. He comes from a citrus family, once headed the Brevard County Farm Bureau and has his eye on becoming state agricultural commissioner.
Of more than 760 plants in Everglades National Park, an exhaustive new 10-year study identifies nearly 60 that are critically imperiled. Poaching remains the biggest threat to most plants, particularly rare orchids and ferns that top the list of species presumed extinct. But in the 25 years since the last study was last done, another threat has emerged for coastal plants: rising seas triggered by climate change. “We now have a snapshot of how things are going,” explained park botanist Jimi Sadle, who said the study is intended to serve as a “blueprint” for managing the park’s resources.
Sending water south from Lake Okeechobee to meander naturally through the Everglades — the “flowway” endorsed by the Everglades Foundation as the only way — “will never happen, it’s pie in the sky,” admitted one of Florida’s leading voices on environmental policy. But Eric Draper, executive director of Florida Audubon, cautioned Sunshine State News Wednesday not to think that just because Plan 6 (the flowway) isn’t where the Legislature should focus, doesn’t mean Big Sugar should be allowed to escape its obligation to help solve water problems.
A bill pushed by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to overhaul the state’s water management system won bipartisan approval Thursday from the House Appropriations committee. At nearly 100 pages, HB 7003 outlines numerous revisions to the state’s management of water quality and quantity that supporters, including House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, say modernizes Florida’s water policy to accommodate future growth. Next stop is the floor of the Florida House.