Lawley talks about importance of Forever Wild vote
by Kenny Farmer
Voters will soon decide the future of Alabama’s land trust program, Forever Wild. The vote on Amendment 1 on Nov. 6 will determine whether the program, which began in 1992, will continue to use a percentage of the royalties from the state’s offshore gas trust fund to purchase land for public use.

Former state Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley believes the Forever Wild program should continue.

“Forever Wild is the cleanest, non-political program in the state,” Lawley said.

He said funding for the program comes from 10 percent of the interest earned from the offshore gas trust and no tax money is used. The money earned is used to purchase land for public use, including the addition of land to existing parks and wildlife management areas, the creation of new wildlife management areas and the purchase of pristine land.

Lawley said the addition of more public use land improves the state’s quality of life and provides enjoyment for those who use it. He said public land has a variety of uses, including hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, bird watching and more.

“One piece of land can serve a lot of different purposes,” he said.

Lawley said the state’s educational systems also benefit from the use of the state-owned land, and that different parks can serve as outdoor classrooms, complete with nature centers and state employed naturalists.

In addition to the recreational and educational purposes of the land, visitors to the parks can have a positive impact on the state’s economy.

Lawley said that next week 750 dogs and their owners and trainers will travel to Hale County to compete in the National Retriever Championship, and the money spent by those attending is expected to “inject about $8 million into the state’s economy.”

“That’s what Forever Wild does, it creates opportunities on public land for people to use, but when they’re using it, they’re also creating an economic impact,” he said. “That’s important to the whole state. Sales tax, lodging tax — when you have people moving, they’re spending money.”

Lawley said Alabama is “a long way off from having too much land.” In other Southern states, the average percentage of land that is designated for public use is 12 percent, while in Alabama it is around three and a half percent.

He said if Amendment 1 passes it will show that the citizens of the state recognize the responsibility to protect natural resources for future generations, as well as maintaining a state owned asset. He said the land adds to the value of the state and that equity is very important.

“It’s reinvesting in state owned property.”

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© 2012