Fla. works to support land conservation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The state's effort to sell some of its conservation lands is paying an unexpected dividend to environmentalists.

Florida's Water and Land Legacy is working to pass a constitutional amendment to guarantee funds for land purchases, and the effort to sell state land has energized petition gathering.

Six-hundred people a day on average enter the state and don't leave. Last year, more than 200,000 people began calling Florida home.

For decades, Florida has had an aggressive land-buying program to conserve land and protect water resources. But the program has been nearly nonexistent for at least three years.

In April, a coalition of more than a dozen environmental groups began collecting petitions. The petitions were to require the state to spend a third of the money it gets from land sales, known as Doc Stamps, on land conservation.

"I think people feel this is the only way to get the issue back in front of the public and expect a positive result," said Charles Pattison, of 1000 Friends of Florida.

So far, more than 200,000 signatures have been gathered. Audubon says most Floridians support land conservation.

"If it means raising taxes, they vote yes," said Eric Draper, president of Audubon of Florida. "I mean, the record of local land acquisition referenda is almost 100 percent successful."

Volunteer efforts spiked after lawmakers ordered some protected lands be sold before new lands can be purchased.

"It gives people who care about this campaign a very concrete and real understanding of what's at stake, why we are fighting so hard," said Aliki Moncrief, petition field director.

More than 600,000 signatures must be verified by February.

Despite the tremendous success of volunteers gathering signatures, the organization just hired paid signature gathers.

The amendment will appear on the November 2014 ballot if enough signatures are verified.

No one opposed the amendment in briefs that were filed before the Florida Supreme Court. The court is expected to have a decision on whether the amendment meets constitutional guidelines by the end of the month.

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