florida environment water earth wildlife protection 2021 conservation rob moher

At the end of 2019, I wrote a guest notice titled “Raise the Stake to Protect Southwest Florida”. The article complimented the excellent USA TODAY Network editorial on the water crisis in our region while also outlining five more steps to protect our water, our land, our wildlife and our future in Southwest Florida. Let’s take a look at where we are today on these five questions.

Wetland destruction: going in the wrong direction

A year ago, I argued that Florida should abandon its misguided attempts to obtain federal approval for wetland permits from Section 404 of the Army Corps of Engineers. With the state budget facing a multibillion-dollar drop in revenue, how would an already underfunded Florida Department of Environmental Protection take on the work of a better-endowed agency like the ‘Army Corps? Florida’s permit dossier demonstrates that we need a review by the Federal Wetland Permitting Agency to better preserve and restore wetlands for flood control, water quality and protection against the impacts of climate change.

Onshore fracking activities: progress

Although the Florida legislature has not banned hydraulic fracturing and advanced well-stimulation treatments, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and other local and national advocates have lobbied to slow onshore oil exploration. This year, advocates celebrated the withdrawal of Tocala’s seismic testing permit, which would have affected more than 100,000 acres. We have kept pressure on state and federal agencies to hold Burnett Oil accountable for damage sustained while exploring the Big Cypress National Preserve. Market forces have reduced demand for new sources of oil, but it should be noted that Florida holds less than 0.1% of the nation’s known oil reserves. Obviously, the potential damage to our environment is not justified for such a minimal return.

Investing in natural resources: making progress

COVID-19 has caused an unexpected boom in Florida’s real estate market, creating more pressure to convert natural land into development. The $ 100 million approval for Florida’s award-winning land conservation program Florida Forever is a success, but it falls short of the $ 300 million target of previous years. Florida is losing 10 acres of natural land per hour to development. On a positive note, the donation of the 27,000-acre Deluca Ranch to the University of Florida for permanent conservation is an example of how a visionary family of ranchers can preserve Florida’s native ecosystems. Additionally, 77% of Collier County residents voted to renew Conservation Collier, making it clear that common sense land conservation programs are popular.

Sprawling development: going in the wrong direction

Developers continue to submit permit applications for projects in Lee County’s Groundwater Resource Density Reduction Sensitive Area (DRGR) as well as the Rural Land Stewardship Zone (RLSA) of Lee County. is from Collier County. Instead of smart, compact, and sustainable communities, plans are moving at high speed to build costly, sprawling developments on panther habitat that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars by subsidizing infrastructure for roads, schools, and services. related. In fact, it abandons the principles and intentions of the RLSA and will result in the loss of natural and agricultural land. The Conservancy is legally challenging Collier’s approval of Rivergrass Village so that it does not become the weak standard bearer for growth in sensitive lands.

Toll roads: go in the wrong direction

In 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis enacted the Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Importance (M-CORES), which include the Southwest-Central Florida Connector. The law bypasses the well-established transportation planning process and has met stiff resistance from Florida residents, conservation and civic groups, local governments and businesses. The plan has already cost our cash-strapped state millions of dollars, but lawmakers and the governor continue to support a toll road project that would put threatened and endangered species, including the panther, at risk. from Florida. It is time to change course and save Floridians from these “roads to ruin”.

Public input is essential to build resistance to poorly designed projects while generating support for positive policy initiatives. Join Conservancy in advocating for smart solutions to our water, land and wildlife challenges by visiting Conservancy.org. You too can help strengthen our quality of life today and in the future.

Rob Moher is President and CEO of Conservancy of Southwest Florida, a nonprofit environmental protection organization with a 55-year history focused on issues impacting water, land, wildlife. and the future of five counties in Florida.

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Betty T. Simpson

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