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Guest Column
On conservation and the environment, Florida Democrats and Republicans see common ground | Column
Despite a highly contentious political environment, a USF survey highlights a rare area of bipartisan agreement among Democrats and Republicans.
This longleaf pine forest on Blackbeard’s Ranch is an unprotected landscape in the Florida Wildlife Corridor just north of Myakka State Park. The property is listed as a priority for a conservation easement through both the Florida Forever and Rural and Family Land Protection Programs. The additional $300 million budgeted this year for the newly designated Corridor can help conserve up to 100,000 acres of land like this. Photo by Carlton Ward Jr / Florida Wild.
This longleaf pine forest on Blackbeard’s Ranch is an unprotected landscape in the Florida Wildlife Corridor just north of Myakka State Park. The property is listed as a priority for a conservation easement through both the Florida Forever and Rural and Family Land Protection Programs. The additional $300 million budgeted this year for the newly designated Corridor can help conserve up to 100,000 acres of land like this. Photo by Carlton Ward Jr / Florida Wild. [ CARLTON WARD JR | Photo by Carlton Ward Jr / Florida Wild. ]
Published Aug. 8

Even in a nation brimming with natural beauty, the state of Florida stands out among its peers. From white sand beaches and pristine natural springs to the haunting beauty of cypress swamps and America’s only living barrier reef, Florida is blessed with rich biodiversity and an abundance of unique ecosystems. It’s no surprise that the Sunshine State continues to attract migrants and visitors from throughout the United States and around the world.

USF professor Stephen Neely
USF professor Stephen Neely [ File photo ]

But burgeoning population growth — nearly 15% in the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — has come at a cost. Coupled with the effects of climate change, Florida’s rapid development and urbanization has led to the fragmentation and diminishment of natural habitats, as well as the endangerment of native species such as manatees and the Florida panther to name a few.

In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bipartisan Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, committing $400 million to the preservation of lands that house some of the state’s wildest and most biodiverse ecosystems. (The Wildlife Corridor is a connected — but still endangered — network of land and water to provide habitat for wildlife across Florida.) The law marked a major step forward in protecting Florida’s endangered species and preserving their natural habitats. While voters are overwhelmingly supportive of the bill, many see it as just one of many steps needed to protect Florida’s environment and preserve the state’s natural treasures.

A recent survey conducted at the University of South Florida asked 600 Floridians to share their opinions on the Wildlife Corridor Act as well as other key environmental issue facing the state today. An overwhelming majority of respondents (87%) approved of the bill’s passage, while a plurality said that they approve of the job that DeSantis is doing when it comes to conservation and the environment.

Still, most respondents also expressed a strong desire for additional environmental protections moving forward. When asked if the state is doing enough to protect and preserve its natural ecosystems, 54% said that more action is needed, while 64% said that the state should be doing more to offset the environmental effects of Florida’s rapid population growth and development.

Across the board, the survey results showed strong bipartisan support for a number of specific environmental policy interventions. For example, 89% of respondents said that they would support extensive reforestation efforts to absorb carbon emissions, while more than 8-in-10 Floridians would also support even further increases in state expenditures to preserve Florida’s ecosystems (86%) and protect endangered species (84%).

USF survey
USF survey [ Provided ]

Amid widely reported increases in the frequency and intensity of Red-Tide/toxic algae blooms, 85% of respondents said that they would favor tougher restrictions on the use of those agricultural fertilizers believed to contribute to red-tide outbreaks.

Despite a highly contentious political environment, the results highlight a rare area of bipartisan agreement among Democrats and Republicans. High levels of Republican support for environmental policy reforms suggest that Gov. Ron DeSantis’s commitment to and “reframing” of environmental issues around “preservation” and “conservation” have resonated with many conservative voters, leaving both parties in strong agreement on the need to protect Florida’s natural beauty and environmental health.

Taken as a whole, the survey responses suggest that most Floridians are keenly aware of the need to balance rapid population growth and development with greater investments in environmental protection and conservation. On the heels of the historic Wildlife Corridor Act, it appears that the governor and state Legislature share this sentiment. Maintaining this bipartisan commitment to conservation and the environment will be essential as the Sunshine State continues to grow.

Stephen Neely is an associate professor at USF’s School of Public Affairs. The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The sample of 600 adult Floridians was stratified by region of the state and fielded to be representative of the state’s demographic composition based on age, gender, race, ethnicity and political party affiliation. The results are reported with a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error +/– 4.