Environmentalists Applaud Unanimous Approval Of Florida Wildlife Corridor Act
Lawmakers doubled to $100 million funding for Florida Forever, which preserves environmentally sensitive lands. They agreed to put $300 million from federal stimulus funding toward land conservation.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed into law the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. It is considered a milestone in efforts to preserve migration paths for animals such as the Florida panther, keeping them from becoming isolated and inbred.
The bill passed by a rare 115-0 vote in the House and a 40-0 vote in the Senate — and they passed a budget that includes ways to pay for it. Lawmakers doubled funding to $100 million for Florida Forever, which preserves environmentally sensitive lands.
The act was a last-minute amendment to an existing bill advocating protection of the Wekiva River watershed near Orlando inserted by Jason Brodeur, a Republican from Seminole County who chairs the Senate's Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.
"We've been working behind the scenes for years," said Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, who was on two 1,000-mile expeditions traversing the length of Florida to publicize the need to protect corridors for wildlife.
"And so the passage of this act comes after a lot of hard work, and not only from the expeditions that we've done in previous years to really raise awareness and the visibility that this Florida wildlife for still exists, and that needs to be protected," she said.
Lawmakers also agreed to put $300 million from federal stimulus funding toward land conservation.
It is the most significant spending on land conservation since voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment in 2014 aimed at restoring funding to historic levels.
The Act includes numerous provisions:
- Securing access to habitats for wide-ranging wildlife, including the endangered Florida panther, and preventing fragmentation of critical lands
- Protecting the headwaters of major watersheds (including the Everglades and St. Johns)
- Helping to sustain working farms, lands and forests
- Preserving lands and waters to protect coastal estuaries
"I think that it is getting through that our messages are getting through both in Tallahassee and to Florida and around the state who have spent the last year really enjoying their backyards and getting out and seeing the places that are so special in Florida and it will be protected through this act," Dimmitt said. "It's my wish that we continue to inspire and thank people about the opportunity to protect the Florida wildlife corridor.
"Our legislators are to be congratulated for taking this really important first step and for helping to make that protection a reality for the future."
"This is landmark legislation for Florida conservation — as well as conservation nationwide — and it is the result of decades of advocacy and education," wrote Jason Lauritsen, executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, which is now changing its name to the Florida Wildlife Corridor Coalition.
"It is a true testament to the power of collaboration, passion, and hard work that the moment is here.''