Anyone who is shocked by the state Department of Environmental Protection’s proposal to open up state parks to hunting hasn’t been paying attention. After all, this incredibly damaging idea comes from the same administration that:
▪ Refused to push for land purchases that would help restore water flow to the Everglades.
▪ Didn’t stand up for voters and insist lawmakers appropriate ample Amendment 1 funds to preserve fragile land.
▪ Severely cut funding for the state’s water-management districts.
▪ Eliminated other funds for the state’s regional planning councils.
▪ Eliminated still other funds for a University of Florida research lab working to stop invasive species from ruining the state’s agriculture and environment.
▪ Abolished the Department of Community Affairs, responsible for growth management.
▪ Made “climate change” a forbidden phrase in state documents.
Obviously, “environmental protection” is open to broad interpretation in this state.
Now comes a plan to turn the state’s park system, one of the best in the nation, into hunting grounds, guns and all. Newly — and swiftly — reappointed DEP Secretary Jon Steverson is all about making Florida’s parks financially self-sustaining, a dubious proposition. The move to open the parks to hunting is not a new idea. It’s been around for decades. However, it has always been beaten back by state leaders, no matter their political party, who clearly understood the intrinsic value of the state’s park system.
They are immensely popular destinations for Floridians and tourists alike, who marvel at the natural beauty that abounds and the recreational opportunities the parks afford.
And, yes, they already are pulling their weight financially: As reported by Herald columnist Fred Grimm recently, revenue from admission and other fees provide 77 percent of the system’s operating costs. And Florida’s parks are ahead of the game: The other state park systems in the country bring in an average of 42 percent.
But it’s no surprise, either, that Gov. Rick Scott, and his compliant, rubber-stamping Cabinet, reappointed Mr. Steverson on Wednesday, even though the governor had previously signaled that the DEP vote would be postponed until September. This gave environmental advocates hope that their concerns would be heard and that there would be more transparency to the process.
They were wrong, unfortunately.
Give credit to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, also a Cabinet member, for expressing concern that the Steverson appointment mysteriously appeared on the agenda when there had not been a Cabinet vote to put it there.
Ultimately, however, a Cabinet majority showed that they have learned nothing from the secretive, and embarrassing, ousting of former FDLE chief Gerald Bailey late last year.
Still, this is in keeping with the slow, painful demise of a DEP that stood firm for the integrity and protection of the state’s natural assets. Despite the revenue parks contribute, the system is being starved financially by the state, underfunded and reliant on kindness of thousands of volunteers.
Then this: Guns and camping Scout troops, bullets and canoeists, rifles and birdwatchers all are deadly combinations that have no place in state parks. And it’s shocking that Florida’s so-called stewards of the environment think otherwise.