2021 Legislature                            CS for CS for SB 976
    2         An act relating to the protection of ecological
    3         systems; creating s. 259.1055, F.S.; providing a short
    4         title; providing legislative findings and a purpose
    5         for the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act; defining terms;
    6         requiring the Department of Environmental Protection
    7         to take certain actions to support the Florida
    8         wildlife corridor; providing construction; requiring
    9         the St. Johns River Water Management District, in
   10         consultation with the Department of Environmental
   11         Protection, Seminole County, the Fish and Wildlife
   12         Conservation Commission, and the Department of
   13         Transportation, to issue a report that includes
   14         information and updates regarding the implementation
   15         of recommendations from the Little Wekiva Watershed
   16         Management Plan Final Report dated November 2005 by a
   17         specified date; requiring the Department of
   18         Environmental Protection and the water management
   19         district to review certain permits along the Little
   20         Wekiva River; requiring certain enforcement actions to
   21         be taken against noncompliant permittees; providing an
   22         effective date.
   24  Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
   26         Section 1. Section 259.1055, Florida Statutes, is created
   27  to read:
   28         259.1055Florida wildlife corridor.—
   29         (1)SHORT TITLE.—This section may be cited as the “Florida
   30  Wildlife Corridor Act.”
   31         (2)LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS.—The Legislature finds that this
   32  state’s population is growing rapidly and that lands and waters
   33  that provide this state’s green infrastructure and vital habitat
   34  for wide-ranging wildlife, such as the Florida panther, need to
   35  be preserved and protected. The Legislature further finds that
   36  the Florida wildlife corridor is an existing physical,
   37  geographically defined area consisting of more than 18 million
   38  acres of land, 10 million of which are conservation lands.
   39         (3)PURPOSE.—The purpose of this act, and of the Florida
   40  wildlife corridor itself, is to create incentives for
   41  conservation and sustainable development while sustaining and
   42  conserving the green infrastructure that is the foundation of
   43  this state’s economy and quality of life by doing all of the
   44  following:
   45         (a)Maintaining wildlife access to the habitats needed to
   46  allow for migration of and genetic exchange amongst regional
   47  wildlife populations.
   48         (b)Preventing fragmentation of wildlife habitats.
   49         (c)Protecting the headwaters of major watersheds,
   50  including the Everglades and the St. Johns River.
   51         (d)Providing ecological connectivity of the lands needed
   52  for flood and sea-level rise resiliency and large-scale
   53  ecosystem functions, such as water management and prescribed
   54  burns essential for land management and restoration.
   55         (e)Preserving and protecting land and waters that are not
   56  only vital to wildlife but are critical to this state’s
   57  groundwater recharge and that serve as watersheds that provide
   58  drinking water to most Floridians and help maintain the health
   59  of downstream coastal estuaries.
   60         (f)Providing for wildlife crossings for the protection and
   61  safety of wildlife and the traveling public.
   62         (g)Helping to sustain this state’s working ranches, farms,
   63  and forests that provide compatible wildlife habitats while
   64  sustaining rural prosperity and agricultural production.
   65         (4)DEFINITIONS.—As used in this section, the term:
   66         (a)“Conserved lands” means federal, state, or local lands
   67  owned or managed for conservation purposes, including, but not
   68  limited to, federal, state, and local parks; federal and state
   69  forests; wildlife management areas; wildlife refuges; military
   70  bases and airports with conservation lands; properties owned by
   71  land trusts and managed for conservation; and privately owned
   72  land with a conservation easement, including, but not limited
   73  to, ranches, forestry operations, and groves.
   74         (b)“Department” means the Department of Environmental
   75  Protection.
   76         (c)“Florida Ecological Greenways Network” is a
   77  periodically updated model developed to delineate large
   78  connected areas of statewide ecological significance.
   79         (d)“Florida wildlife corridor” means the conserved lands
   80  and opportunity areas defined by the department as priority one,
   81  two, and three categories of the Florida Ecological Greenways
   82  Network.
   83         (e)“Opportunity area” means those lands and waters within
   84  the Florida wildlife corridor which are not conserved lands and
   85  the green spaces within the Florida wildlife corridor which lack
   86  conservation status, are contiguous to or between conserved
   87  lands, and provide an opportunity to develop the Florida
   88  wildlife corridor into a statewide conservation network.
   89         (f)“Wildlife” has the same meaning as in Article II of the
   90  Wildlife Violator Compact Act, s. 379.2255.
   91         (g)“Wildlife corridor” means a network of connected
   92  wildlife habitats required for the long-term survival of and
   93  genetic exchange amongst regional wildlife populations which
   94  serves to prevent fragmentation by providing ecological
   95  connectivity of the lands needed to furnish adequate habitats
   96  and allow safe movement and dispersal.
   97         (h)“Wildlife crossing” means a landscape design element
   98  that connects two or more patches of wildlife habitat and that
   99  is meant to function as a safe conduit for wildlife over or
  100  beneath roads, waters, and other barriers to wildlife movement
  101  and that is designed to protect Florida panther and other
  102  critical wildlife habitat corridor connections and to reduce
  103  motor vehicle collisions with wildlife, to reduce the likelihood
  104  of injuries and mortalities to humans and wildlife from such
  105  collisions, and to reduce the potential for damage to motor
  106  vehicles from such collisions.
  107         (5)DUTIES OF THE DEPARTMENT.—The department shall:
  108         (a)Encourage all state, regional, and local agencies that
  109  acquire lands, including, but not limited to, the Fish and
  110  Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Department of
  111  Transportation, to include in their land-buying efforts the
  112  acquisition of sufficient legal interest in opportunity areas to
  113  ensure the continued viability of the Florida wildlife corridor.
  114         (b)Encourage investment in conservation easements
  115  voluntarily entered into by private landowners to conserve
  116  opportunity areas.
  117         (c)Encourage state land-buying agencies and state land
  118  management agencies to consider the conservation of opportunity
  119  areas as a multiphased project for the purpose of listing,
  120  acquisition, and management.
  121         (d)Consider the inclusion of private funds to supplement
  122  the state’s contribution in its efforts to acquire a fee or
  123  less-than-fee interest in lands that contain recognized
  124  opportunity areas and conserved lands in the Florida wildlife
  125  corridor.
  126         (e)Seek opportunities to attract new sources of federal
  127  funding and to strengthen existing programs to protect and
  128  conserve the Florida wildlife corridor.
  129         (f)Encourage private landowners, through existing and
  130  future incentives and liability protections, to continue to
  131  allow their private property to be used for the preservation and
  132  enhancement of the Florida wildlife corridor.
  133         (g)Encourage new approaches and novel financing mechanisms
  134  for long-term protection of the Florida wildlife corridor,
  135  including, but not limited to, public-private partnerships;
  136  payments for ecosystem services; blended financing for growth,
  137  resilience, and green infrastructure; and support for the
  138  sustainable growth of agriculture.
  139         (h)Encourage state and local agencies with economic and
  140  ecotourism development responsibilities to recognize the
  141  importance of the Florida wildlife corridor in encouraging
  142  public access to wildlife areas and bringing nature-based
  143  tourism to local communities and to support acquisition and
  144  development activities for preservation and enhancement of the
  145  Florida wildlife corridor.
  146         (i)Encourage private investment in ecotourism focused on
  147  the Florida wildlife corridor.
  148         (j)Encourage the protection, preservation, and enhancement
  149  of the natural value of the Florida wildlife corridor for
  150  current and future residents of this state.
  151         (6)CONSTRUCTION.—This section may not be construed to
  152  authorize or affect the use of private property.
  153         Section 2. (1)The St. Johns River Water Management
  154  District, in consultation with the Department of Environmental
  155  Protection, Seminole County, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation
  156  Commission, and the Department of Transportation, shall issue a
  157  report by December 31, 2021, that includes information and
  158  updates regarding the implementation of recommendations from the
  159  Little Wekiva Watershed Management Plan Final Report dated
  160  November 2005. The report must include, but not be limited to,
  161  the following information: a description of all projects or
  162  recommendations included in the report that have been
  163  implemented and their completion dates, an analysis of how the
  164  projects or recommendations achieved the results included in the
  165  report, an analysis of costs for ongoing operation and
  166  maintenance of the constructed projects completed, a list of
  167  permit violations which may have contributed to sediment buildup
  168  north of S.R. 436, an analysis of any new projects that may
  169  benefit the watershed, and recommendations and cost estimates
  170  for future studies or projects that may be necessary to identify
  171  new or potentially significant contributors of sediment
  172  accumulation in the Little Wekiva River.
  173         (2)(a)The Department of Environmental Protection and the
  174  water management district shall immediately review, with the
  175  goal of identifying significant contributors of sediment
  176  accumulation, any permits which the water management district
  177  has determined may have contributed to sediment buildup north of
  178  S.R. 436 to assess whether the permittee is in violation of any
  179  permit conditions. Appropriate action to resolve compliance
  180  issues shall be undertaken pursuant to chapter 373, Florida
  181  Statutes, if the department or the water management district
  182  discovers a violation of any permit condition.
  183         (b)As part of the review, the Department of Environmental
  184  Protection and the water management district shall review known
  185  violations of such permits since 2018 and attempt to determine,
  186  using existing information, what effects such violations may
  187  have had on sediment accumulation in the Little Wekiva River.
  188         Section 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2021.