Florida’s Wildlife Corridor got a huge boost in the new budget
By Traci Deen, Tampa Bay Times
Florida’s new budget includes almost $1 billion for land conservation. That’s not just a remarkable achievement — it’s monumental.
This funding brings the total amount dedicated by the Legislature, and approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, for land conservation programs and initiatives to an astounding $2 billion over the last three years.
At the height of conservation funding in our state’s history, land conservation programs were receiving $300 million annually. Two billion dollars in three years? Absolutely historic. Just years ago, many state leaders were debating whether to fund conservation programs at all.
The programs benefiting since 2021 include the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust programs and the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Rural and Family Lands program. The Florida Forever program typically provides funds for the protection of natural areas, while the Rural and Family Lands program focuses on conserving agricultural lands and working forests. The Florida Communities Trust program complements both by prioritizing conservation of urban and suburban areas.
Perhaps most exciting of all is the impact that this historic funding will have on the Florida Wildlife Corridor’s geography. This vital stretch of land spans the state, from the Everglades to Pensacola, and makes up 18 million acres of wild, public, private and working lands. Currently, just over 10 million acres, over 50%, of the vast corridor is permanently protected from development. This landmark funding will further the protection of the remaining acreage needed to conserve a functional and permanent corridor.
In this year’s budget, two key corridor sections will receive $850 million for land acquisition. The Caloosahatchee-Big Cypress Corridor is located in Southwest Florida and its protection secures critical Everglades and panther habitat. Second is the Ocala-to-Osceola (O2O) Wildlife Corridor in North and North Central Florida, an area vital to black bears and other endangered plants and animals. Together, the areas enhance the statewide connectivity of a functional corridor.
By protecting and connecting key habitat areas and conserving a statewide wildlife corridor, we ensure the survival of many species that call Florida home, safeguard our fresh water, and keep natural and agricultural lands positively contributing to our state’s economy. The historic level of funding for land conservation programs is a major win for these efforts, allowing us to make greater progress moving forward.
The enormity of this funding cannot be overstated. Preserving our state’s natural resources is essential to maintaining our quality of life and supporting tourism, agriculture and other industries that depend on a healthy natural environment. By investing in land conservation today, we are protecting the future of our state for generations to come.
This would not have happened without the leadership of Florida’s Legislature. I commend House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo for their tireless commitment to bringing leaders and advocates alike together to ensure that conservation was a top priority this legislative session. Our gratitude foes to the Legislature for budgeting conservation at these unprecedented levels, and to the governor for signing it into law. It’s made history.