Spoiler alert. I’ve got the inside word on who’s getting that special conservationist award from the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
If you’d rather wait until the foundation’s annual Blue-Green shindig in Weston Saturday night to learn the winner, stop reading here. Because I can’t stop myself from blurting the identity of the 2015 honoree.
As surprise winners go, this one’s a doozy. As improbable as Vin Diesel winning an Oscar or me copping a Pulitzer. Because among Florida’s notable nature lovers, Rick Scott’s name doesn’t leap to mind so much as it slithers in like a python.
That’s only because our governor’s notion of conservation differs from that of, say, the Sierra Club or the Audubon Society or the Florida Wildlife Federation or just about any environment organization around. Except, of course, for the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, which derives a considerable chunk of its funding through state government and loves Scott like a daddy.
The Foundation’s celebrating someone who regards flora and fauna much the way he thinks of ordinary Floridians. And ordinary Floridians can tell you: When it comes to Gov. Scott, you best not get between him and the bottom line.
Scott’s the first Florida governor with the courage to bring fiscal discipline to the wilderness. He insists that nature pay its own way. As Jon Steverson, his chief of the Department of Environmental Regulation, told legislators last spring, “I want to maximize value for the taxpayers, but also for the environment.”
In that order.
Even as Scott flouted a voter-approved constitutional amendment providing for the purchase of conservation land, his DEP was contriving to open state parks to commercial timber operations and livestock grazing. While former governors regarded state parks as bucolic tableaus, this visionary sees so many fallow tracts that could be leased out for cellphone towers. (The plan to turn parkland meadows into luxury golf courses seems to have faltered.)
Scott’s DEP even envisions wild critters scurrying around park woodlands as potential revenue streams, figuring Florida’s fearless hunters will pay good money to stalk half-tame park animals who’ve grown used to camera-wielding, animal-loving tourists.
No doubt, the main reason our gun barrel conservationist will be honored Saturday night is because his administration has been the first in 21 years to take a stand against the Florida black bear. There was no dilly-dallying around in Tallahassee, waiting for a scientific estimate of how many of the endangered bears still roamed Florida. Hell no. No worries about public opinion. The state just sold a bunch of $100 bear hunting licenses ($300 for out-of-staters) and turned the hunters loose. In two days, they killed 304 bears -- including, as the Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday, 36 lactating females.
So naturally, Florida’s bear-slayer-in-chief will be honored Saturday by the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, which fattened its budget last year with $641,073 from sales of “conserve wildlife” specialty license plates.
You’ve seen the tags. Sky blue with a majestic black bear rearing over what’s left of the Florida wilderness — just before the crack of a hunter’s rifle.