BY LESLEY BLACKNER
Thank you, Jeff Brower, Volusia County Chairman, for attending the first annual Florida Wildlife Corridor Summit. Two takeaways that everyone should know:
First, the Florida Wildlife Corridor is a statewide network of land and water that must be saved as soon as possible if Florida’s unique biodiversity is to survive.
The Florida Legislature unanimously recognized the corridor in 2021 and Governor Ron DeSantis signed it into law. Much of Florida’s drinking water comes from the corridor. Most of Florida’s many endangered species inhabit the corridor.
But time is running out to save the corridor. Florida’s century-old real estate craze shows no signs of abating. And too many local elected officials consider their work as a simple automatic validation of development requests. (Jeff Brower is the exception that proves the rule.)
More than one speaker at the summit made the chilling point that only a decade ago to save the lands most at risk – bulldozers are getting closer every day.
Second, Jeff Brower was the only county commissioner from one of Florida’s 67 counties to run for the top. Chairman Brower reiterated his commitment and determination to continuously protect Volusia’s critical routes in the corridor.
I was amazed and thrilled to hear the passion and commitment of new Florida House President Paul Renner to the permanent protection of the hallway. He talked about his newborn son. There’s no doubt that President-elect Renner wants his son to have somewhere to go other than a new multi-purpose complex in the decades to come.
I was inspired by Arnie Bellini, a technology entrepreneur from Tampa who is deploying his fortune to make the permanent protection of the Wildlife Corridor a reality.
The summit brought together many dedicated scientists, government officials (state and federal), NGOs, artists, and everyday Floridians who truly care and acknowledge a harsh reality: We are either at a tipping point or a turning point. to save what’s left of natural Florida. The next decade is decisive for the Wildlife Corridor.
Saving the Florida Wildlife Corridor in perpetuity will not be easy. State law that recognizes and authorizes financing encourages paid acquisition of private land. This means buying land directly. It’s awesome… and expensive.
The new law also encourages the establishment of conservation easements on corridor lands. Sounds good – right? But as with everything land use in the Sunshine State, there’s a secret loophole to let developers do whatever they want.
Florida Law 704.06 governs conservation easements. He talks about a good game about “conserving land or water areas primarily in their natural, scenic, open, agricultural, or forested state; maintain these areas as suitable habitat for fish, plants or wildlife. And those conservation easements must be “perpetual” — meaning forever, at least in the dictionary.
But then comes the sneaky part:
“A conservation easement may be released by the easement holder to the royalty holder even if the royalty holder is not a government agency or a charitable corporation or trust.”
Yes, you read correctly. Conservation easements can be removed very easily. Our state agencies do it all the time. For example, the St. Johns River Water Management District regularly releases conservation easements.
Apparently, Florida’s conservation easements are only good until a development agreement is in place.
This giant loophole in 704.06 must be closed to make the Florida Wildlife Corridor safe “in perpetuity.” But that shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem.
Please learn more about the Wildlife Corridor and spread the word. The Volusia County Wildlife Corridor already has its own website and Facebook page.
Every Floridian’s goal should be to do something, to do what you can to make sure the hallway is saved.
To start, ask every elected official and candidate to support the implementation of the corridor – with deeds, not just words. We must turn this tragic tipping point into a turning point for a worthwhile future.
For more information, visit https://volusiawildlifecorridor.com or https://floridawildlifecorridor.org.
— Blackner, an environmental lawyer, lives in Tallahassee.