Byrne: Forever Wild deserves supportPublished 11:00pm Friday, November 2, 2012
Over the years, Alabamians have been given the opportunity to vote on monetary issues that significantly affect our state’s future.
In 1982, the people of Alabama voted to save royalty money received from natural gas companies drilling in state waters to form the Alabama Trust Fund which now holds $2.5 billion in principal and produces income from investments.
In 1992, 84 percent of Alabamians approved a constitutional amendment that created the Forever Wild Land Trust, which provides public outdoor recreational opportunities and protects Alabama’s rich ecological diversity all across the state. Forever Wild has set aside over 227,000 acres of land that serve as recreation areas, nature preserves, state parks, and Wildlife Management Areas.
Fiscal responsibility is undoubtedly important for our state and her citizens. And on November 6th, Alabamians will again have the opportunity to vote on an important measure – amendment one is to continue the Forever Wild Land Trust as-is for a twenty year period. As a fiscal conservative, I am proud to support a ‘YES’ vote to continue Forever Wild.
Forever Wild was established in an extremely fiscally responsible manner. Funding for Forever Wild is derived from 10 percent of the interest earnings from the Alabama Trust Fund – not taxes – capped at 15 million dollars a year. Essentially, Forever Wild’s funding is derived from a depleting natural resource to expand public lands for all Alabamians. If Forever Wild fails to be renewed, the funding returns to the corpus of the Alabama Trust Fund – not the General Fund.
Forever Wild, then, is neither a source nor a solution to the state’s budget woes – it is simply an investment for all current and future Alabamians.
The investment of Forever Wild is not singular in purpose. The program was created to expand recreational opportunities for all Alabamians while preserving Alabama’s unique geographical and ecological areas.
The fiscally sound management of the Forever Wild program over the last 20 years has yielded strong returns. Since 1992, Forever Wild has preserved over 227,000 acres of land with roughly 220 miles of recreational trails available all across this great state of ours. Opportunities exist for activities ranging from hunting and fishing to bird watching, mountain biking, canoeing, and many others.
Additionally, the program is audited annually and has never had a hint of mismanagement. Each property that is nominated must meet certain criteria on a graded scale, be appraised twice, and approved by the 15 member board. Over 900 properties have been nominated since Forever Wild began, and there are currently less than 100 Forever Wild tracts.
Forever Wild properties act as economic engines by contributing directly to the multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry. Just last week, the Master National Hunt Test kicked off in Hale County, Alabama at a Forever Wild tract with more than 700 participants from almost every state in America and even Canada. These tracts create a significant economic benefit to the entire state and especially to the Black Belt region. It is no mistake that the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Birmingham Business Alliance, Eufaula Chamber of Commerce, Demopolis Chamber of Commerce, Mobile Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama are all supporting the reauthorization of Forever Wild.
The extensive recreational opportunities and encompassing benefits of the program are represented by the coalition of groups that support the renewal of Forever Wild. Proponents include the NRA, the Sierra Club, Alabama Power Company, the Nature Conservancy, Business Council of Alabama, the League of Women Voters, the Alabama Wildlife Federation, and on and on.
I believe it is fair to say that Alabama politics has never seen such a broad coalition supporting one issue. The reason for this support is due to the success the program has seen in the past 20 years, operating controversy and scandal-free, all the while providing so many benefits to every interest and every citizen across Alabama. Continuing this investment for future generations is important to the quality of life of all Alabamians.
Forever Wild is an example of good and consistent fiscal policy that produces tangible results. You and I have the opportunity to extend this investment for Alabama by voting ‘YES’ on amendment one November 6th. Doing so will ensure that Alabama remains Forever Wild. One can imagine how much better Alabama’s finances would be if this type of fiscal responsibility was practiced in all areas of government.