Tallahassee – Former Florida U.S. Senator Bob Graham, former DEP Secretary Colleen Castille and leading advocates of the Florida Water and Land Legacy constitutional amendment today announced the campaign’s signature gathering drive is underway. Campaign volunteers will be outside polling places around the state on Election Day to ask voters to sign a petition to place the amendment on the 2014 ballot. 

The signature drive is the latest phase of the effort to pass an amendment to provide a dedicated funding source for water and land conservation, management and restoration. The Florida Water and Land Legacy amendment would designate one-third of the existing documentary stamp tax revenues to land conservation efforts. Based on current projections, this could provide more than $5 billion to conserve and restore land and water resources in Florida over the next ten years.

“There is no ‘R’ or ‘D’ on Florida’s water and natural lands. Conserving our water resources, beaches and shores, forests, and wetlands must return to the top of our state’s priority list because it represents a sacred trust that has been loaned to us by our children and grandchildren,” said Sen. Graham. “We want to take this issue directly to Florida voters through a constitutional amendment to create a dedicated source of funding to secure significant funding for land and water conservation, management and restoration.”

The amendment dedicates the funds for land and water conservation, management and restoration in Florida and ensures that funds are used solely for these purposes and cannot be used for any other purpose by the State Legislature. The amendment would provide funds to:
• Restore, manage and acquire lands necessary to protect Florida’s drinking water sources and protect the water quality in our rivers, lakes and streams;
• Protect Florida’s beaches and shores;
• Protect and restore the Everglades and other degraded natural systems and waterways;
• Manage fish and wildlife habitat, protect forests and wetlands, and restore conservation lands that are an important part of Florida’s natural heritage, economy and quality of life; and
• Provide funding to manage existing state and local natural areas, parks and trails for water supply, habitat and all kinds of outdoor recreation.

“Conservation is a key conservative value. It’s about saving – not wasting. There’s nothing more conservative than protecting the land and water of this state we love so much,” said Colleen Castille, who served as DEP Secretary under Gov. Jeb Bush. “There are many reasons for conservatives to endorse the Florida Water and Land Legacy amendment like I do. The main thing is to clearly understand that this would not be a new or higher tax – the constitutional amendment would use money that is already collected by the state for this purpose.” 

Under the guidance of governors of both parties, Florida has long been a leader in land and water conservation. Preservation 2000, created by Gov. Bob Martinez, and its successor Florida Forever created by Gov. Jeb Bush, have been the most successful state land conservation programs in the nation, protecting more than 2.4 million acres of critical water resources, natural areas, wildlife habitat, parks, greenways and trails. 

Starting in 1991, for 19 years the Florida Legislature provided $300 million annually for Florida Forever and Preservation 2000. The state set aside an additional $100 million each year to match federal funding for Everglades restoration. Since then, however, state funds for land and water conservation have been drastically cut. Since 2009, the Florida Legislature has provided only $23 million for Florida Forever, a 97.5-percent reduction in funding. State appropriations for land management and ecological restoration, including the Everglades, have suffered similar declines.

Along with the significant volunteer force being assembled, former Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan – who serves as campaign manger for the Florida Water and Land Legacy campaign – noted that the effort brings together the Trust for Public Land, Audubon Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, 1000 Friends of Florida, Defenders of Wildlife and other leading groups across the state. She encouraged more to get involved in the effort. 

“We are all Florida. Floridians understand that protecting our water and land is important to our economy and quality of life. That’s why they’ll join our team,” said Hanrahan. “We’re building a strong volunteer army to put this question before voters. This will be the most significant environmental issue put in front of Florida in our lifetimes. We want to let the people decide if clean water and natural land are a legacy we want to safeguard for future generations.” 

For more information on the campaign, and to volunteer, visit FloridaWaterLandLegacy.org or visit the campaign on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FLWaterLandCampaign.