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Senator's attempt to slash environmental funding fails

A cattle-ranching state senator who has opposed environmental programs for years tried to gut Florida's land-preservation program Tuesday.

The move by conservative Republican Charles Bronson of Satellite Beach failed, but the future of Florida's popular Preservation 2000 land-buying program remains uncertain as the legislative session heads into its final days.

Bronson claimed on the Senate floor that he's "not anti-environment." But last year he tried to allow high-speed boat testing in a canal that had the state's highest record for manatee deaths. In 1985, he was among a group of senators who tried to hold back funding for state biologists unless the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission agreed to drop protection for the white ibis.

Tuesday, saying Florida's land preservation program takes too much money off the tax rolls, he tried to cut funding for the proposed Florida Forever program in half, and spend 60 percent of the money to manage land instead of buying it.

"They say it is environmentally endangered land. What is that? Somebody tell me," Bronson said."Scientifically, it's difficult to figure out what environmentally endangered land is."

Florida rigorously studies land it buys for environmental preservation, providing detailed maps and inventories of wildlife and natural features.

Only Sens. Charles Williams, D-Tallahassee, and Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, agreed with Bronson.

Preservation 2000, which has saved a million Florida acres from development, ends in two years. Two Tampa Bay lawmakers, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, and Rep. Sandy Safley, R-Clearwater, have been working to craft a successor.

But the House and Senate versions are very different, and finding common ground before the session ends Friday will be a challenge.

The House version, called Florida 2020, would generate $6-billion over 20 years, with $4-billion going to preservation lands and $2-billion going to state colleges and universities. The Senate version, Florida Forever, would provide $3-billion for land-buying over 10 years.

The House has passed its version, and the Senate is to vote today. Then they'll try for a common bill.

"I hope we can pass something," Latvala said. "A lot of major issues don't get resolved until the last minute."