An Alabama legislator effectively killed his bill Friday that would have ended the state’s purchases of wilderness land.
Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Arab, announced that he's recommending no action be taken on his bill to transfer money from the Forever Wild Trust Fund to the operations fund for the State Parks agency. Scofield says he's reached a deal with Forever Wild overseers to discuss with him ways to find more money for state parks.
"This is the optimal solution that I have wanted all along, and it has the potential to keep our parks open and accessible to all of the people of Alabama," Scofield said in a Friday press release.
The announcement comes after the Senate passed the bill Wednesday and a House committee held a hearing on it Thursday. The announcement was during the fifth day of a special session called specifically so the Legislature could pass a 2016 budget that deals with a $200 million shortfall.
Supporters of the bill have said it would not end the Forever Wild program and is intended to help the financially struggling state parks. Opponents have disagreed.
Forever Wild buys and conserves land for public use, such as Coldwater Mountain in Anniston, which in recent years has been developed as a popular mountain biking destination.
Forever Wild began in 1992 and is paid for with 10 percent of the interest earned by the Alabama Trust Fund. Voters in 2012 voted to continue paying for the program for the next 20 years.
The state parks are facing financial hardship due to the current budget crisis. In the spring, the State Parks agency said 15 of Alabama’s 22 parks would have to close unless the Legislature found new revenue.
"We're relieved that Forever Wild is safe and look forward to a solution for funding for our state parks," said Tammy Herrington, executive director of the Conservation Alabama Foundation, a state advocacy group. "Not only are public lands important for hunting, they also provide a foundation for eco-tourism."
Scofield said he looks forward to working with Forever Wild to find a permanent solution.
"Conservation is important to the people of Alabama — Forever Wild is a terrific program and so are our state parks," Scofield said. "There is no reason why we can't have both ... I believe the people of Alabama expect these two entities to work together in preserving public lands."