The Alabama Senate passed the amended Forever Wild reauthorization. The House will likely approve the Senate version, which calls for a referendum. The House had earlier approved a bill without the call for a referendum. From all indications, that body will agree to put the issue on the 2012 ballot.
I would have preferred for the Legislature to have approved Forever Wild’s funding mechanism, but it’s never a bad thing to give folks a chance to express their opinion at the ballot box. Alabama voters voted to create the program in 1992 by an overwhelming majority of 84 percent. I believe they will vote in a similar fashion next year.
Forever Wild’s funding comes from 10 percent of the investment interest earned on natural gas royalties paid into the Alabama Trust Fund. The amount the program receives annually is capped at $15 million. Over the past 18 years, Forever Wild has used that money, along with federal grants, to buy 222,000 acres in 37 tracts that are now open to the public in the form of nature preserves, state parks, recreation areas and wildlife management areas. Hunting is allowed on more than 184,000 of those acres, but the land has many other recreational uses.
Without Forever Wild seed money, the state would be shut out of the federal grant process. So far, nearly $50 million of the $164 million used to buy public land has come from federal sources, according to a 2009 report on the Forever Wild Land Trust’s activities. It should be noted that Forever Wild is able to buy land from willing sellers and at fair market value only. Contrary to what some have said, nobody’s land has ever been taken against their will. There has been a huge economic benefit from acquiring these public lands. Instead of trying to cut the program, as some opponents have argued for during debate on its reauthorization, Alabama should promote those lands as tourist destinations.
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