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Program Description

Florida’s legislature established the Florida Forever program in 1998 to enhance land acquisition and restoration efforts. This program was scheduled to raise $300 million each year during the decade beginning in Fiscal Year 2000-01. Nearly a quarter of these funds may be used for facilities development, ecological or hydrological restoration, or other capital improvements to public lands. Most of the ecological and hydrological restoration funds will funnel through the state’s five water management districts, which may spend collectively up to $52.5 million annually from Florida Forever funds for these purposes. Each district has its own governing board and operation rules and policies, but the DEP provides oversight and approves all Florida Forever expenditures. In addition to these funds, approximately $10.5 million may be available for capital improvements to DEP acquired properties through the Acquisition and Restoration Council, a nine-member board composed of five state agency heads and four governor appointees. The Council has not yet fully developed procedures for awarding these funds. However, both the water management districts and the Council’s capital improvement projects must meet goals and measures established in legislation [s. 259.105(4), F.S.].

The state also has a very active invasive plant management program that is critical to its restoration programs. Nearly $34.8 million was appropriated for this effort in Fiscal Year 2000-01. The amount available for invasive plant management is increased substantially through partnerships with other state agencies, water management districts and local and federal governments such that $29,725,376 (includes both uplands and aquatic plant control) will be expended this year. These funds are allocated based on a priority schedule developed by regional working groups in concert with the Department’s Bureau of Invasive Plant Management.

On January 9, President George W. Bush and Governor Jeb Bush entered into an historic pact between the state and federal government that keeps Everglades restoration on track and ensures long-term protection for the “River of Grass.” The agreement, signed nearly one year ahead of schedule, requires Florida to reserve water specifically for environmental purposes in order to receive federal funding for the $7.8 billion restoration project. The agreement protects 68 endangered and threatened species as well as the natural resources of the Everglades National Park, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Water Conservation Areas. Everglades restoration is designed to recapture over 1½ billion gallons of water daily that is currently diverted to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The majority of water will be used to protect South Florida’s system, while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood control.

Federal Conservation Reserve, Conservation Reserve Enhancement, and Wetland Reserve grants have been awarded to the DEP and the water management districts to assist in funding wetland restoration projects.

Restoration Program Goals

The Florida Forever program [s. 259.105, F.S.] includes the following goals and measures:

  • Protect, restore, and maintain the quality and natural functions of land, water, and wetland systems of the state, as measured by:
    • The number of acres of publicly-owned land identified as needing restoration, acres undergoing restoration, and acres with restoration activities completed;
    • The percentage of water segments that fully meet, partially meet, or do not meet their designated uses as reported in the DEP's State Water Quality Assessment 305(b) Report;
    • The percentage completion of targeted capital improvements in surface water improvement and management plans created under s. 373.453(2), regional or master stormwater management system plans, or other adopted restoration plans;
    • The percentage of miles of critically eroding beaches contiguous with public lands that are restored or protected from further erosion;
    • The percentage of public lakes and rivers in which invasive, non-native aquatic plants are under maintenance control; or
    • The number of acres of public conservation lands in which upland invasive, exotic plants are under maintenance control.
  • The Legislature has also established performance measures for the DEP’s invasive plant management program services:
    • The percent of Florida’s public waters where control of hydrilla, water hyacinth, and water lettuce has been achieved and sustained.
    • The number of new acres of public land where invasive, exotic, upland plants are controlled and maintained.
    • The number of acres of public water bodies treated.
    • The number of acres surveyed.

Eligibility Criteria

Only public lands and water bodies qualify for funding under state-funded restoration programs. Funds available to water management district generally will be allocated to approved Surface Water Improvement and Management projects, while the Acquisition and Restoration Council’s funds for restoration from Florida Forever are restricted to projects on state lands that are identified in the land management plan for each unit of management (i.e., each state park, forest, wildlife management area, etc.).

Restoration Database

The DEP‘s Florida Wetland Restoration Information Center provides information for a statewide ecological restoration program for wetlands and their associated uplands using ecosystem management and ecological principles. The Center has been developed to aid local governments and community organizations with their restoration efforts by providing online tools and research materials needed for the implementation and management of restoration projects.

A Restoration Guidance Handbook has been developed to provide guidance to local governments and community organizations on the process of wetland restoration, including how to assess the wetland site, determine appropriate restoration measures, as well as state of the science techniques.

The Florida Ecological Restoration Inventory is GIS compilation of the locations of current and proposed restoration activities on conservation lands. The inventory is available on the internet at

Staffing (Wetland Restoration Program Staff.)

Water management district staff include:

  • The SWFWMD has 13 staff dedicated to implementing restoration plans as of Dec 2001.

The DEP does not have any staff specifically dedicated to restoring wetlands, although staff in the DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks, who are responsible for managing state parks and other publicly managed lands, are responsible for developing overall restoration and management plans for such lands, which may include opportunities for wetland mitigation.

Staff in the DEP’s Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas also identifies restoration needs as part of the other duties in the management of the state’s 41 aquatic preserves.

Restoration opportunities often are identified as part of mitigation offered to offset otherwise unpermittable impacts identified during the processing of environmental resource and wetland resource permit applications. Restoration sites can be those that have been previously identified on publicly managed lands (lands owned by the Board of Trustees, the DEP.)

The DEP’s Division of Recreation & Parks does restoration on tracts they acquire or otherwise have owned for a long time.

The water management districts actively restore and manage lands they own and acquire.