Re-evaluate Forever Wild

With Alabama laying off teachers and state employees as the result of severe budget cuts, it seems only reasonable that lawmakers would proceed with caution before setting aside up to $300 million to purchase more land through Forever Wild – especially since funding for the program would not change until October 2012.

Forever Wild has done a good job of preserving recreational and unique land for future generations. Many farmers and rural landowners were among the first to endorse Forever Wild and have continued to support its mission.

Legislators are currently considering two measures related to Forever Wild. One would reauthorize the program a year early and earmark up to $300 million over the next 20 years to buy more land. A second calls for a year-long study to evaluate the program before committing additional public money.

When Alabama voters overwhelmingly approved the program in 1992, they did so with the understanding that the conservation and financial needs of the state should be evaluated before reauthorizing the program. There is no reason to rush a reauthorization bill through the Legislature during this session.

None of the land purchased by Forever Wild is in jeopardy of being lost. In fact, as of Sept. 30, the program had $24 million in its stewardship fund for the perpetual care of Forever Wild properties plus $15 million to purchase more land. These funds would ensure the continuation of Forever Wild, regardless of whether additional funding is authorized. …

To date, the program has spent about $160 million to purchase more than 220,000 acres statewide, including natural treasures like the Walls of Jericho in Jackson County and a portion of the fragile Mobile-Tensaw Delta in southwest Alabama. …

In Gov. Robert Bentley’s State-of-the- State address, he proposed cutting funds to historical sites and other tourist attractions noting that “they are not as important as providing health care to low income children and elderly or as keeping State Troopers on the road.”…

Now is the time for the Legislature to evaluate Forever Wild. Legislators have a duty to weigh the conservation and financial needs of the state before rushing to reauthorize the program a year before any change in funding would occur.

Contact your legislators today and ask them to support a study to evaluate Forever Wild.