After years of slowed progress in a down economy, Gov. Rick Scott recently announced his goal to commit $5 billion toward Everglades restoration over the next 20 years. If approved by lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session, the money could bring long-delayed Everglades restoration projects back on track.
As part of Scott’s 2015-16 budget, he is earmarking $150 million for Everglades restoration, along with an additional $150 million toward land acquisition focused in part on protecting land for the Florida panther. “We will keep working to make sure we preserve our natural treasures so Florida can continue to be a top destination for families, visitors and businesses,” Scott said as he announced the plan.
While this latest push is certainly good news for the Everglades, it is just the latest chapter in a decades-long saga to save the famed “River of Grass,” restoring as much of the historic flow of the Everglades as possible given the current reaches of development. However, this noble effort has long been stymied by competing jurisdictions and interests; pushed forward during the years of plenty and scaled back during lean budget years. And it is certainly not just the State of Florida. The federal government, in particular, has spent decades dragging its heels on the topic of Everglades restoration, preferring unfunded mandates to necessary appropriations. Meanwhile, the South Florida Water Management District has so far not pursued the options it is holding to buy thousands of acres of farmland that could be used for future Everglades restoration projects.
That is, of course, the problem with projects designed to be massive, multi-generational initiatives. It is very hard to keep the progress moving forward when the needs of today continue to intervene. However, the problems with the Everglades ecosystem were not created overnight and will not be fixed overnight. It will take decades of steadfast work to get it done.
If you want to learn more about why it all matters, the 16th annual Everglades Day Festival will take place, rain or shine, on Saturday, Feb. 14, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (10216 Lee Road, two miles south of Boynton Beach Blvd. off State Road 7). The festival aims to focus attention on the importance of the Everglades to South Florida’s people, animals and habitats. The event will include a dozen special presentations, live music, animal encounters, food trucks and many activities for kids. Learn more at www.auduboneverglades.org.