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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Bills to fully fund preservation of the Florida Wildlife Corridor are lagging in Tallahassee

Interstate 4 crossing the Florida Wildlife Corridor
Carlton Ward Jr.
Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition
Interstate 4 crosses part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor between Tampa and Orlando

The wildlife corridor would preserve land stretching from the Everglades to Georgia and Alabama, allowing wildlife to freely migrate.

There's been some good news coming out of Tallahassee this year for the Florida Wildlife Corridor. But funding to buy those lands may not be as forthcoming.

Gov. Ron DeSantis hassigned a billthat will direct $200 million to help link hiking and biking trails to a planned statewide wildlife corridor.

But bills that would have set annual spending for the wildlife corridor at between $300 million and $350 million a year never got out of committee. Instead, another billhas a better chance of being passed that would allocate $100 million a year for the Florida Forever land preservation fund. But that bill would allow the money to be used on administrative costs.

Paul Owens is president of One Thousand Friends of Florida, a "smart growth" advocacy group.

"But it does establish some good priorities for both Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands Program, to prioritize properties for protection that are within the wildlife corridor that are in danger of being developed," he said.

Rural and Family Lands pays farmers and ranchers to not develop their land, while allowing them to continue working.

 Florida Wildlife Corridor map
Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition
Florida Wildlife Corridor map

The bill:
• Dedicates $100 million annually to the program from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund;
• Increases the contract price for a land acquisition agreement that requires approval by the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (Board) from $1 million to $5 million;
• Revises appraisal requirements to increase the appraisal amount that requires a second appraisal to be conducted from $1 million to $5 million;
• Requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to disclose appraisals to private land owners or their representatives during negotiations for acquisition;
• Clarifies that the Board or, when applicable, DEP may acquire parcels of land for the full value of that parcel as determined by the highest approved appraisal; and
• Requires the Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) to give increased priority to projects within the Florida Wildlife Corridor and projects in imminent danger of development, loss of significant natural attributes or recreational open space, or subdivision.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.