This is a photo of my friends and me (the one with the rope) on the Chazzahowitzka River near the Gulf Coast (photo by John Moran). It’s a memory that speaks of the power of wild Florida I’ve experienced backpacking or canoeing or swimming. It reminds me of how lucky we are to still have wild places in Florida – worlds of white-sand beaches, crystal clear waters, primeval swamps and marshes, sunlit pine woods.
But the Florida we love is fast disappearing. The photo below shows the Florida of 2060. After our population swells to 36 million, development is predicted to pave over an area of wild land almost twice the size of the Everglades, and leave other places fragmented by roads and ecologically degraded. It will mean the loss of wild species, of ecosystems, and of much of the natural beauty and richness that brought so many of us here in the first place. It means that all of us who value having nature in our life will have our quality of life suffer.
But Wild Florida is still out there, and most Floridians want our leaders to take action to protect it.
That’s why in February 2017 I’m planning to walk to 300 miles through wild terrain to Tallahassee from my home in Gainesville, Florida. The 2017 legislative session is coming up, and I want to walk on behalf of all Floridians to demand that our state lawmakers follow the wishes of voters and fully fund the Florida Forever program to purchase and protect critical habitat. As I walk through wild places like the Suwannee and the Big Bend, I want to showcase the natural beauty our shared home still has. I want to walk for future generations so that they too can live in a state as beautiful and rich as we grow up in. And I hope to be a part of a movement of Floridians of all types standing up for the Florida they love. With this letter, I want to invite you to join me, and to support the cause!
Background to the Florida Forever Program
Florida has had a proud bipartisan tradition of protecting our natural treasures for future generations. Florida Forever and its predecessor, Preservation 2000, represent this bipartisan spirit. These two highly successful programs have protected over 2.5 million acres of Florida’s unique and endangered habitats. During the recession, Florida Forever’s budget was slashed by more than 95% from what was once a $300 million program. But even after the economy recovered (and the pressure of development on habitat renewed), Florida’s legislature didn’t restore funding. That’s why in 2014 75% of Florida voters voted for a constitutional amendment to require an existing tax fund (of about $750 million) to be used only for the “acquisition and restoration of conservation lands.”
When voters supported this, they clearly expected that much of this fund would be used for land conservation programs like Florida Forever. But since then, our legislature has knowingly misspent this money to replace already existing funds for the salaries and operating expenses of state agency- with no net gain for environmental protection programs. Meanwhile Florida Forever only received $15 million dollars. If our leaders are clearly misusing these funds, they are violating the state constitution they swore to uphold. And as real estate prices rise and development further encroaches, we’re running out of time to protect Florida’s last wild areas. Floridians have the right to feel that our people and environment are being shortchanged- that’s why the nonprofit Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on this issue.
Our legislators are calculating that they can get away with it if most of us are ignoring what’s going on. If Florida’s citizens stand up for protecting wild Florida and what it means to our economy and quality of life, legislators will have to listen. If we remind them of their duty to follow our state constitution and the will of voters, they will have to act. That’s why I want to ask on behalf of all Florida voters that this legislative session, our legislature properly uses our Amendment 1 fund for conservation as voters intended. And that includes $175 million (the recommendation by the Florida Water & Land Legacy group that sponsored the Amendment) of these funds for the Florida Forever program.
My Walk for Wild Florida:
My personal campaign is about “walking the walk” and letting our leaders know that protecting wild Florida really matters to me and all of us. I’m a 19-year old recent graduate from Eastside High School in Gainesville. I'm fortunate to be a part of EarthEcho's Youth Leadership Council , working with other young environmental leaders to engage teens across the US with conservation. I am fortunate that I’ll be able to walk most of the way from Gainesville to Tallahassee along the Florida National Scenic Trail, through unique and wild places like the Suwannee River and St Mark’s Wildlife Refuge. Starting at the beginning of February, for 21 days I’ll be on the trail, camping each night. Through social media posts I will share photos and narratives from these places on media and with our leaders to remind everyone why these places are worth saving. I’m also going to invite everyone from local politicians to journalists to conservationists to walk with me to share their unique perspectives on why this matters to a wider audience, and to get them involved.
As I start my campaign, I’ll release an open letter and petition to Florida’s legislature to properly fund Florida Forever for future generations. I’m hoping that media coverage from my walk and the op-eds I’ll publish will get the eyeballs I need to make this to get a lot of people involved and politicians paying attention.
What I am asking for:
(1) Speak up for Wild Florida
I hope this campaign can be about Floridians speaking up about why wild Florida matters to them and letting their leaders know they have a duty to fund the Florida Forever program.
Send a “letter from Florida” to your state senate or state house representative (find yours here . It doesn’t need to be fancy and you can feel free to include a photo of yourself or loved ones in Florida’s wild areas. For those of you in Alachua County, it’s Keith Perry (R) 4650 NW 39th Place, Suite C, Gainesville, FL 32606, Phone: (352) [phone redacted])
You can send a physical postcard with a photo and message online here: http://postcard.com/embrace . It costs $1.50 and takes about 2 minutes.
Call your representative in the Florida legislature (look them up here ) - it’s been proven to work. Usually you’ll reach a polite staffer who will ask you what your message is. Tell them why Wild Florida matters to you and that you expect them to fully fund Florida Forever and other conservation programs. Here’s a possible script: “Hi, my name is ________ and I am one of your constituents living in ZIP code _____. I wanted to call to urge Congress(wo)man ____ to follow voter’s wishes and fully fund the Florida Forever program and other crucial conservation programs that were. Florida’s wild areas are crucial to our economy and way of life here in North Florida and I want to see these places preserved for future generations.”
(2.) Get involved with the Walk for Wild Florida
Join me as I walk to Tallahassee! I could use the companionship and I want to involve everyone a steward of North Florida. Just email me at [email redacted] and we’ll make it work!
Join our Facebook page (click the text) or Twitter for updates during my journey and to get involved!
Share this campaign! Link- https://www.gofundme.com/WalkforWildFlorida
Donate your skills! I am no mastermind, so whether you’re a graphic designer or a writer or have any political contacts or are part of an organization, I could use your help to protect Wild Florida! Just email me at [email redacted] .
(3.) If you can, please help share costs
I am creating this fundraiser to help cover expenses that make this trip possible. I have been working on a farm and at Publix to save up for this trip, and keeping costs low, but still need help. Most of the budget of $1150 will go to gear, food, and key campaign expenses (like sending letters and organizing events)- see my cost sheet here . If I’m fortunate enough to go over my goal, I will devote it to expanding the campaign side of it- helping people send free “postcards from Florida” and investing in a camera (will use own money to help cover the costs). Any money that I do not spend will be donated to the Alachua Conservation Trust to protect the wild areas of North Florida. I’m truly grateful for your time and support and I would love to get you involved with the campaign.
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