Friends of Florida State Parks (FFSP) launched its largest ever legislative effort this year in support of environmental funding and we can all be very proud of the results.
With the full backing of the Florida Park Service and leadership of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, FFSP visited legislators in Tallahassee, took part in legislative educational events in the capital and produced a number of documents setting out the arguments for supporting the DEP’s 2018 budget request and other environmental needs.
Statewide senate and representative district maps were produced and President Paula Russo wrote personally to every sitting legislator explaining the economic impact of all the parks in their respective districts. She also pointed out that the system of Florida State Parks & Trails is one of the state’s greatest success stories.
The legislators were informed that Florida State Parks contribute mightily to the state’s tourism industry and preserve many of the jewels of our natural environments – a $3 billion direct economic impact, $205 million in sales tax revenue, and supports over 48,600 jobs and attracts more than 32 million visitors a year.
While most of us know this, it was important to get this message across to the politicians which is why FFSP also encouraged individual park’s Citizen Support Organizations to support this effort by writing to their legislators and decision makers in Tallahassee – and, thankfully, many of you did. As a result, some notable achievement has been secured.
The 2018-19 budget earmarked $100 million for Florida Forever, Florida’s premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program and a blueprint for conserving natural resources and renewing Florida’s commitment to conserve the state’s natural and cultural heritage. Since the inception of the Florida Forever program in July 2001, the state has purchased more than 751,513 acres of land with a little over $2.98 billion. Some of these purchases have become state parks
Florida Forever, however, has not been funded for some years, and this year’s funding is in large part due to the insistence of Senator Rob Bradley. From the outset of budget talks he was determined to secure $100 million even though the House initially countered this with an offer of only $8 million. Luckily Senator Bradley prevailed and Florida’s environment will benefit greatly as a result.
The Florida Park Service gets almost all the $50 million it requested for its 2018/19 budget and millions more has been made available for other environmental projects. About $175 million has been earmarked for Everglades’ restoration and $50 million for the much needed rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover dam on Lake Okeechobee.
So, we can all give ourselves a big pat on the back. For another year at least, Florida’s state parks get the funding they need and the additional monies allow for more conservation and environmental protection. That is a situation that benefits all of us who live in Florida and the millions who visit to enjoy our parks and natural beauty.