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Environment

Conservationists Gather Signatures For Five Rights Of Nature Amendments

 Crystal River Three Sisters Springs. The five new rights of nature amendments will protect both wild life habitats of uniquely Florida creatures and water ecosystems rights to exist.
Lisciandrello, Carl
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Crystal River Three Sisters Springs. The five new rights of nature amendments will protect both wild life habitats of uniquely Florida creatures and water ecosystems rights to exist.

The Rights of Nature initiative was overwhelmingly passed by Orange County voters last fall. Now, activists statewide are hoping to get not just one, but five Rights of Nature constitutional amendment changes on the ballot in 2022.

The first of the Rights of Nature ballot amendment proposals aims to expand the right to clean water measure statewide to give all citizens of Florida the right to clean water.

This is the initiative voters passed in Orange County last fall. The amendment would recognize as legally enforceable the rights of all waterways across Florida to “exist, flow, be free from pollution, and maintain a healthy ecosystem.”

The amendment also provides that any Floridian or Florida organization is allowed to file a legal action on behalf of those waterways, and it recognizes that every Floridian has a legal right to clean water.

The second proposed amendment — the Florida iconic species amendment — creates a new, protected category of wildlife. It would safeguard 10 different species of wildlife from recreational and commercial hunting, as well as protecting their habitats. It includes the Florida Panther, the Florida black bear, the manatee and the bottlenose dolphin, among other species.

The third is a Florida wetlands protection amendment, that would make it illegal to dredge and fill wetlands in the state.

The fourth prohibits captive wildlife hunting in the state of Florida. According to the Humane Society, Captive hunting operations — also known as "shooting preserves," "canned hunts," or "game ranches" — are private, fenced in, trophy hunting facilities that offer customers the opportunity to kill exotic and native species. This initiative is meant to prevent animal cruelty, limit the spread of disease, preserve native wildlife and protect public health.

And the fifth proposed rights of nature amendment is a ban on building toll roads through conservation and rural areas.

To say these are ambitious rights of nature initiatives is not an understatement. For Chuck O’Neal, President of the Florida Rights of Nature Network, they are absolutely necessary.

"We’re experiencing exponential destruction of our natural world around us. I think anyone who takes a drive around where they live now sees what's happening," O'Neal said. "And in order to add some counterbalance to what is happening to the destruction of our natural world, it's important that citizens put forward initiatives that will right the ship. These initiatives are there to provide that there is some kind of balance, that nature does have rights."

O’Neal added that despite some grumbling from exotic species trophy hunters and developers, the initiatives so far are being well received, as was the Orange County initiative that passed by nearly 90% of the vote.

"The majority of people in both parties and no party affiliation, NPA supported this amendment. It is charter amendment in Orange County," O'Neal said. "I think someone's gonna have a hard time really organizing opposition to this, these series of amendments, because it's so critical in Florida, especially with our water. Water is part of the lifeblood of Floridians. For a lot of us that's why we moved here in the first place.

"And they see the degradation of our waterways, the green color, the algae buildup, then there's over 700 manatees dying already this year. We have massive fish kills from red tide, you know the blue-green algae in Lake Okeechobee being discharged to the Caloosahatchee River and to the St. Lucie estuary. These are all problems that are emblematic of the state government that does not protect our natural resources. So it's up to the people of Florida to take over and say, these are our priorities. And we want this done."

O’Neal says they are seeking 900,000 signatures for each of the five initiatives by Nov. 30.

"Even though we have all these problems we do have this avenue, this citizen's initiative avenue to amend the Florida Constitution, to make laws that reflect what the citizens of Florida really want," O'Neal said.

To learn more about the five amendments and the petitions, which need to be downloaded and signed on hard paper, go to FL5.org.

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