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The Legislature has reached the point where the two chambers begin trying to meld their separate budgets into one.
In their current forms, the House and Senate budgets amount to a middle-finger salute to Florida’s voters.
Those would be the voters who in 2014 overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, clearly declaring they want millions of dollars spent annually to reinvigorate the state’s Florida Forever program by purchasing conservation land.
As of this week, the House budget would defund Florida Forever and the Senate budget would provide a pittance.
And for good measure, both budgets would defund the Rural and Family Lands program, which allows the state to purchase permanent conservation easements on farms and ranches while allowing agricultural operations to continue.
Since the passage of Amendment 1, legislators have consistently ignored the will of the voters. Why? Because they can.
Now is the time to let your representative and senator know this arrogance will no longer be tolerated.
Under the Senate budget, a lot of the money meant for Florida Forever is being siphoned off to support Senate President Joe Negron’s crusade to build huge reservoirs to help the Everglades and to stop the toxic releases from Lake Okeechobee that spread damaging algae blooms in South Florida estuaries and rivers.
Preventing this disaster is a noble goal, but it’s not land acquisition.
Speaking of algae blooms, Quinton White, executive director of Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute, offered an ominous warning during a meeting this week of the Jacksonville Waterways Commission.
White said he is “very concerned” about the warmer-than-usual weather and the high amount of nutrients in the St. Johns River.
“There’s a good chance of having toxic algae blooms this summer,” he said.
Do your part — proper fertilization is a good place to start — to try to prevent another return of the Green Monster.
White made another relevant point in the debate over JaxPort’s plan to deepen the St. Johns River shipping channel.
White said the salinity in the river is high. High salinity levels have wiped out all of the submerged aquatic vegetation in the river in Duval County.
Protecting that vegetation is critical for the fish and critters that depend on it.
Dredging without proper mitigation, White said, would worsen the salinity.
Remaining grass beds south of Duval County would be the next to suffer.
Waterways Commission meetings often produce some interesting tidbits. This one did.
There are about 100 offshore artificial reefs off the coast of Duval County that provide great fishing and diving opportunities.
The two artificial reefs put in the river near downtown several years ago are working as hoped.
A group checking the progress of the inshore reefs caught 40 yellow mouth trout off one.
Why aren’t we establishing more reefs and doing a better job of marketing these assets to draw people to Jacksonville as other coastal counties are doing?
Various groups are planning ways to do both things.
Here’s another interesting tidbit provided this week via a news release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The headline read: “Be bat aware: Maternity season starts April 17.”
The release said the maternity season lasts through Aug. 14.
Who knew? I didn’t.
“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is reminding the public that they cannot do exclusions to remove bats from buildings during this time when bats are giving birth and raising their young,” the release said.
The release continued: “Bats are beneficial to Florida since they consume many insects, including pests that can significantly damage agricultural crops.”
There you have it: Be bat aware.
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