Save more land while it's cheap

A Times Editorial
Published August 25, 2007

There could be an upside to Florida's current real estate slump. Every dollar spent in the Florida Forever land-buying program could buy more acreage now that sellers are a little more desperate. So the $300-million that is raised annually from documentary stamp revenue could save more irreplaceable land and waterways.

The problem is that nearly all of the money raised between now and 2010 is already committed to purchases. The solution would seem to be simple: Allocate more money to conservation land purchases now, while it will buy more. Gov. Charlie Crist proposed that earlier this year, asking for an additional $100-million to buy land, but the Legislature shot it down.

Nor is it likely to be a topic of conversation in the upcoming special session, when lawmakers are looking to cut the state budget - not add to spending. Yet there is a lesson to be learned from this situation.

Florida Forever is an investment in what the Trust for Public Land calls "green infrastructure." As with any investment, it's better to buy when prices are low. Unlike a temporary expense, "this is a long-term, high-priority capital need for the state," said Andy McLeod, associate state director of the Trust's Florida office, part of a coalition backing increased conservation spending.

Floridians shouldn't need too much convincing. In a rapidly growing state, the best way to protect our shrinking natural beauty is to buy the land and set it aside in perpetuity. Otherwise, there will be too much development pressure on owners of the land, and as Will Rogers said, "They ain't making any more of it."

Florida Forever's share of the doc stamp revenue has been shrinking as legislators used the growing pot of money for other needs. Legislators should reverse that trend, allocating more of the money to Florida Forever. If they do, Floridians will look back on the decision in the not-too-distant future and recognize its wisdom.