The Florida Wildlife Corridor program that highlights the need to protect a still mostly intact network of natural paths for wildlife to get from one of Florida to another if they choose is one of the more ambitious Florida environmental effort in recent times.
The concept had been around for decades, promoted by a number of scientists and environmentalists, but the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition made the idea more tangible by spending months hiking and paddling on the land and recording the results in a series of professional videos.
So it was with great fanfare this year that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that appropriated $300 million to acquire land along the corridor.
But it quickly became clear there were problems or as they say in Tallahassee, devils in the details.
The Tampa Bay Times uncovered the fact that the appropriation, which by the way came from federal stimulus funds rather than funds from the voter-approved source that legislators are still fighting against in court, allows any of the land acquired either through outright purchase or purchase of a conservation easement be used to set up a wetlands mitigation bank.
There were a couple of problems with this.
As Craig Pittman reported in the Florida Phoenix, wetlands mitigation banks in Florida don’t have a very good reputation for restoring wetlands to mitigate for development-related wetlands destruction.. That’s based on his and a colleague’s research that resulted in a book-length expose of the process. To say some wetlands mitigation banks are scams is probably not much of an exaggeration.
Another problem is that the wetlands mitigation industry lobbied for and secured passage of a state law that prohibited wetlands mitigation banks on public lands, which at one time offered viable competition with the side benefit that their projects would actually improve the environmental features for which the public land was purchased.
How this applies to land still in private ownership but with a taxpayer-funded conservation easement on it will be an issue to watch to see if this ends up in court.
Pittman tried to get a comment from Sen. Ben Albritton from Hardee County, the architect of this idea, but wrote he didn’t get a response.
Albritton did tell the Tampa Bay Times that one advantage of some of these mitigation banks in more rural heartland areas he represents is that the mitigation would actually occur in the same drainage basin as the wetlands damage for which the credits are being purchased occurred.
Based on the history of the conduct of wetlands mitigation banks in other parts of the state, it’s too early to celebrate that as an improvement.