By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
In a compelling victory, the voters of Alabama chose to continue the state’s Forever Wild conservation program with a yes vote on amendment 1.
As an avid supporter of the program former commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Barnett Lawley said, “This vote shows that people are aware of what Forever Wild does and the importance of extending the program.”
With Tuesday’s vote, the Forever Wild program has been given a 20 year extension.
There were many calls to end the popular program due to the state’s fiscal crisis.
“There was a lot of misinformation being spread around right before the vote,” said Lawley. “Some were saying that Forever Wild was part of raiding the trust fund which was totally inaccurate.”
The program is actually funded from a portion of the gas and oil royalties paid to the state and is not funded by any taxpayer dollars.
Since it was established by constitutional amendment in 1992, the Forever Wild Land Trust has purchased more than 227,000 acres of land for public use. As of 2012, Alabama still had the smallest percentage of public conservation land (3.66 percent) in the Southeastern U.S. The Forever Wild Land Trust permanently owns 165,807 acres of this land, less than .51 percent of Alabama’s total land area. Additional land has also been secured under a long-term recreational lease.
The nation’s oldest and largest gun rights group, the National Rifleman’s Association also weighed in to encourage its many members and support a vote “YES” on Amendment 1.
The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) in their endorsement said, “Sportsmen have benefited immensely from this critical program, opening up tens of thousands of acres teeming with wildlife. At a time when finding places to hunt is more and more difficult for many sportsmen, the acquisition of public hunting land is essential to the preservation of our hunting heritage. Specific language in the constitutional amendment designating that the lands acquired should provide for hunting opportunities.”
Democrats and republicans supported to reauthorization of Forever Wild with a 75 to 25 percent victory.
House Minority Leader Representative Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said, “Forever Wild protects Alabama’s natural beauty by purchasing land for public use and recreation, including hiking trails, wildlife preserves, and ten state parks. The program has been supported by people from all sorts of backgrounds, most recently in a TV ad featuring former Alabama and Auburn football coaches Gene Stallings and Pat Dye. Taxpayer money purchases the land, but the land is maintained and protected without relying on taxpayer money.”
“This is a big win for the people of Alabama,” said Lawley. “This a part of us showing responsibility for what we have inherited and what is ours.”