Selling Land to Buy Land

Original post date: January 22, 2014
Article by: Anonymous

Florida has more than 3 million acres of state lands protected from development by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Almost 5,000 acres of this conservation land could soon be up for sale. The sales are intended to raise $50 million to buy more conservation land.

The Preservation 2000 program, which expanded on earlier land acquisition programs, began in the early 1990s. Conservation advocates were concerned about the rapid growth of Florida cities and sugar plantations, so, with state funds they purchased large amounts of property. In doing so they saved environmentally sensitive land, crucial for water preservation and quality as well as providing a habitat to over 285 rare species, including the alligator and the Florida panther. In the early 1990s Florida had the largest land acquisition program for environmental protection efforts in the US. Much of the land acquired was private property, raising some questions in the minds of skeptics about violation of basic property rights. Benjamin G. Parks of the National Inholders Association protested the acquisition, insisting that the solution to “an alleged wildlife problem” would create “a very real problem to the people” (p.165). Support for the program was widespread throughout the scientific community, which listed Florida as one of the “most-endangered ecosystems” in a 1995 status report on endangered ecosystems.

Despite a few concerns with property rights of citizens, the program was applauded and led to Florida Forever, through which large amounts of property were acquired. Now, 20 years later, the Florida Forever program has seen a reduction in annual funding from $300 million to $20 million in the 2013 legislature. The legislature authorized an additional $50 million in spending, provided the funds were obtained by selling lands no longer needed for conservation purposes. The money is to be used to acquire lands with a greater need for conservation. The listof properties was assembled rapidly and originally included over 10,000 acres. The Trust for Public Land warned that the total revenue from the sales would not come up to $50 million, and recommended that the DEP reset their criteria. The list has since been adjusted to include around 5,000 acres worth of property, with around half the acreage of the original list it is unlikely the sale will achieve the target $50 million.

The proposed lands to sell include 5.4 acres from the Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park in Polk County. This has infuriated William and Margaret Broussard, who donated a large amount of money towards the purchase of this state park in memorial of their son. They are resisting the sale of this property with the help of attorney Clay Henderson. In a letter to the DEP, Henderson said he is “ deeply troubled by this very rushed effort to sell off portions of the legacy of Florida’s irreplaceable conservation lands.” Henderson’s concerns are shared by non-profits and conservationists such as theNorth Florida Land Trust (NFLT). Marc Hudson, the NFLT land protection director says the “process is being rushed before it can be assessed properly.”

Land acquisition can be costly and complicated, and the process often leaves individuals feeling out of the loop. Even when they attempt to cooperate with state agencies to preserve land, as was the case with William and Margaret Broussard, the results are only guaranteed as long as the land remains valuable to the ecological goals of whatever agency is in charge. There are several options, to provide better funding and staffing to agencies dedicated to environmental protection, or to investigate private initiatives. Private initiatives have higher incentives to respond to performance metrics and market forces. Government agencies are required to deal with a large amount of bureaucracy and often suffer from a lack of any “substantial performance review.” As Michael De Alessi from the Reason Foundation says, “Using performance indicators to measure and acknowledge conservation success, especially in the context of using the land is the next logical step.”

About DeVoe Moore Center

The DeVoe L. Moore Center is conducts economic research and policy analysis focused on state and local policy issues and is located in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University in Tallahassee. As an educational institution the DMC provides professional research experience to undergraduate and master’s students through an extensive program of internships and independent study, preparing them for a future in public policy, economic development, public sector accountability and entrepreneurship.
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