A. The Florida Forever program is the state’s blueprint for conservation of Florida’s natural resources. It replaces the Preservation 2000 program (P2000), the largest program of its kind in the United States. P2000 was responsible for the public acquisition and protection of more than 1.7 million acres of land. Florida Forever encompasses a wider range of goals, including water resource development and supply, increased public access, public lands management and maintenance, and increased protection of land by acquisition of conservation easements.
Q. How much land has been acquired under the Florida Forever program?
A. The state of Florida has acquired more than 718,000 acres under the Florida Forever program. Combined with the purchases of the Preservation 2000 program, Florida Forever’s forerunner, the state has acquired more than 2.4 million acres since 1991.
Q. Who may propose property for purchase by the division’s Florida Forever program?
A. Anyone may nominate a project. Federal, state and local government agencies, conservation organizations or private citizens are project sponsors. The sponsor is required to contact owners to let them know that their property is being proposed for state acquisition. Complete a Florida Forever application by contacting the Office of Environmental Services in the Division of State Lands at 850-245-2555 or write to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Division of State Lands, Office of Environmental Services, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., Mail Station #140, Tallahassee, FL 32399.
Q. What’s the process for amending a project boundary?
A. If the land to be added to a project boundary is less than $2 million in tax assessed value, less than 10 percent of the size of the existing project boundary and less than 1,000 acres in size, a boundary modification form must be completed. If it does not meet all three of these criteria, a Florida Forever project application must be completed instead of the boundary modification form. For boundary amendments that propose to add property to an existing project, a land managing entity must also be contacted to ensure that they are willing to manage the proposed addition. If the land is proposed for acquisition through a conservation easement, the Division of State Lands would be the manager. For fee-simple acquisition, the proposed project manager should provide a letter that addresses the questions in the boundary modification form. If the property is within a project boundary and you would like to have it removed, please send a certified letter identifying the property with a copy of documentation validating your interest in the property (for example, tax statement or land title document) to the following address: Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of State Lands, Office of Environmental Services, 3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, MS 140, Tallahassee, FL 32399.
Q. Who decides which lands to buy?
A. The Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) consists of 10 members. Four members represent state agencies: Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Forest Service of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Division of Historical Resources of the Florida Department of State. Four are citizen appointees of the Governor with backgrounds from scientific disciplines of land, water or environmental science. In 2008, two additional citizen members were added. One was appointed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and one by the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Council evaluates and selects projects twice per year, in June and December, and ranks Florida Forever acquisition projects annually in December. After projects are approved and ranked, the overall Florida Forever list is submitted to the Governor and Cabinet, serving as the Board of Trustees, for approval. The Governor and Cabinet may remove projects from the list but cannot otherwise change the list.
Q. How are Florida Forever Lands prioritized? A. ARC’s final responsibility in preparing its proposed acquisition list is to rank projects in numerical order in categories specified in Chapter 259, F.S. Each existing and newly-approved project is assigned to one of the following categories: Critical Natural Lands, Critical Historical Resources, Climate Change Lands, Partnerships and Regional Incentives, Less-than-Fee Projects (primarily conservation easements), and Substantially Complete Projects. At its December meeting, after voting to add new projects to the list, the council votes within each category to rank projects from highest to lowest priority. This ranking sets the stage for a work plan to be developed by the division that outlines which specific projects and ownerships within projects will be negotiated for purchase with Florida Forever funds allocated by the Legislature. See the Florida Forever Priority List.
Q. Who buys the land?
A. DEP's Division of State Lands and its acquisition partners negotiate with owners to buy land on behalf of the people of Florida. The division cannot act without the consent of the Governor and Cabinet, serving as the Board of Trustees, who oversee the program by approving the list of projects recommended each year by the Acquisition and Restoration Council and approving specific purchases.
Q. Who owns the lands purchased by these programs?
A. Lands purchased by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands, DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks (DRP), Florida Forest Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and under the Rural and Family Lands Protection Act are owned by the Board of Trustees (Governor and Cabinet). Lands purchased under the Florida Communities Trust and Stan Mayfield Working Waterfronts programs are usually owned by the local governments that applied for the grants. Lands purchased by the different water management districts are owned by those districts. These lands are held in trust for the residents of Florida.
Q. How long would it take for the state to buy a piece of property, assuming it is added to the acquisition list?
A. If funds are available, the process could take up to six months or a year, depending on the complexity of the project. After a project is added to the Florida Forever list and a decision is made that it’s a high priority, then additional steps include a preliminary survey, appraisals, negotiations and final closing products.
Q. When can an owner of property on the Florida Forever list expect to be notified by DEP's Division of State Lands?
A. Sponsors of proposed projects are required to provide proof that they notified owners before applying. The division also tries to notify owners of large tracts within new projects before the Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) ranks the list. A letter is sent that asks about an owner’s willingness to consider selling his or her property. Owners of new projects are also notified before surveying and appraising work begins. A land acquisition agent then contacts owners to begin negotiations.
Q. How does the state determine the price it will offer a landowner?
A. DEP's Division of State Lands uses appraisals as a basis for negotiations. Each property receives at least one appraisal from an independent private sector appraiser to estimate market value.
Q. When are appraisals obtained?
A. DEP's Division of State Lands will request permission from the owner to appraise the property. The exact timing of this request will depend on the location and resource value of the property and the availability of Florida Forever funds. The length of time of the appraisal process varies, depending on the size and the complexity of the project.
Q. What factors do the appraisers consider when estimating value?
A. Appraisers consider many factors including location, size, zoning, highest and best use, and economic conditions when reaching their value opinions. These value opinions are based upon and supported by comparable sales information.
Q. May a property owner accompany appraisers on a site visit?
A. Yes. Owners are invited to accompany appraisers and discuss the property with them. Owners are encouraged to provide as much information as possible to appraisers during site visits.
Q. What role can a nonprofit organization play?
A. Nonprofit organizations may sometimes play a role in helping the division acquire preservation land. They may act as intermediaries with owners and may assist them with tax and estate planning issues. For information about nonprofits, contact The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land, The Conservation Fund or the Land Trust Alliance, etc.
Q. Does being on the Florida Forever list affect property value?
A. No. Changes in property value through government action normally occur because of local government decisions involving zoning, development permits or changes in local land use plans. Being on the Florida Forever list should not trigger any such action. If lands contain significant natural or cultural resources, however, various laws, rules and ordinances may affect the use of the property. These same resource values would also attract the state’s interest in acquiring land.
Q. Must a property owner sell to the state?
A. No, not under most circumstances. Land acquisition by the Florida Forever program is almost exclusively voluntary.
Q. How can an owner keep his property off the Florida Forever list or get it removed if it is already on the list?
A. Any property owner can ask the state to remove his property from the Florida Forever list. The property owner would need to send a certified letter to the Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC), DEP Office of Environmental Services, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., MS 100, Tallahassee, FL 32399. ARC will drop that piece of property from the acquisition list, but the Governor and Cabinet have an option, when they approve the acquisition list, of putting that property back on the list. That takes a supermajority vote of the Governor and Cabinet, and happens only if the property is judged to be of critical importance.
Q. What are the advantages of selling property to the state?
A. When selling property to the state, it is a cash sale. It may provide certain tax benefits as well. An owner’s decision to sell property to the state has other, less tangible benefits. It can dramatically affect Floridians, visitors to Florida, Florida waters, recreation, and future generations who want to learn and experience Florida’s environmental landscape. An owner will have the satisfaction of knowing he or she has helped protect important ecological resources for generations to come.
Q. Are there other ways to protect land without an owner selling all his or her property rights to the state or another public entity?
A. Yes. Alternate methods are available in some cases, if they are in the best interests of the property owner and the state. An owner might consider a life estate, which enables the owner to continue to live on the property but ensures state ownership and management after his or her lifetime. By granting or selling a conservation easement, an owner may protect important resources while also receiving certain tax advantages. A conservation easement allows the owner to retain title to the property along with certain negotiated rights, but protects the natural resource values of the property. If an owner does not wish to sell the property now, he or she could offer the state a first-right-of-refusal. That gives the state the chance to try to buy the land in the future, if circumstances change and an owner decides to put the property on the market. These and other methods of resource protection planning can often solve the needs of the owner and save part of Florida’s natural or cultural heritage for the future.
Q. How can I get a copy of the latest Florida Forever Plan?
A. The Florida Forever Five-Year Plan can be downloaded. See Florida Forever under the State Lands Quick Links.
September 21, 2020 - 4:03pm
Interested in subscribing to DEP newsletters or receiving DEP updates through email?
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.