I love practical jokes.
That’s why I have newfound respect for the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
Because those guys appear to be in the midst of pulling off one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.
You see, each year, the foundation chooses one standout servant within the “conservation community” to honor — someone who goes above and beyond to protect Florida’s natural resources.
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And this year, the foundation said it chose Gov. Rick Scott as its honoree.
Nicely played, guys.
Rick Scott as an environmentalist? That is a hoot.
What’s next? An award for coastal preservation to the captain of the Exxon Valdez?
Hey, maybe we can award a puppy-protection medal to Cruella de Vil!
One person I know described the announcement as an “embarrassment” and a “sick joke” … and that person represented belongs to a group that helped sponsor the foundation’s awards ceremony in the past. (More on that in a moment.)
But I just laughed, figuring this can’t be real.
After all, it’s well-known that Scott has been an environmental disaster. Those are actually the words used in the headline of a Tampa Bay Times editorial: “The Rick Scott record: an environmental disaster.”
But forget the liberal media and tree-huggers. Scott has torn apart the environmental legacies of hard-core conservatives such as Jeb Bush.
Scott gutted Bush’s land-conservation and growth-management programs.
He eased up on polluters, protested water regulations and presided over oustings of environmental watchdogs at state agencies.
We’re talking here about a man who once proposed turning state parks into golf courses — until Arnold Palmer (of all people) said he was nuts.
A man whose idea of dealing with climate change was reportedly to ban the use of the words “climate change.”
Heck, voters statewide mounted a revolt last year, passing Amendment 1 to force higher spending on the environment.
Obviously, the idea of honoring Scott as some kind of environmental crusader is ridiculous.
So when the Times reported it, I thought it was a masterfully played prank … until the folks at the Wildlife Foundation said it was true.
Now, the truth is that the Fish and Wildlife Foundation isn’t exactly the greenest group. It’s the fundraising arm of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — a group of Rick Scott appointees.
So maybe it’s not all that surprising that it wanted to kiss a little gubernatorial derrière.
Still, this annual soiree — the BlueGreen Event — has been sponsored by some true environmental groups in the past, including Audubon Florida.
Yet Scott’s selection was too much for Audubon’s advocacy director, Charles Lee, to bear.
The diplomatic Lee said he had worked effectively with every governor over the course of 43 years: Reubin Askew, Bob Martinez, Jeb Bush and more … until Scott came along.
“Each of these prior governors in their own way honored and aided the wishes of the majority of Floridians who desire to protect and conserve our environment and natural resources,” Lee said. “This award to Scott is a sick joke and an embarrassment.”
The foundation’s response?
“There is no mention of an award.”
Um … what?
Yes, foundation Director Brett Boston spent the better part of four emails stressing to me that Scott wasn’t getting an “award.” He and his wife were being “honored.”
There was some odd distinction in the foundation’s mind.
But not in the mind of other past sponsors — including Florida Wildlife Federation representative Jim Thomas, a longtime protector of Lake Apopka. “I am amazed they would do this,” Thomas said, guessing the group was trying to suck up to the governor to ensure future funding. “I definitely do not approve.”
On Tuesday morning, I began reaching out to other sponsors of the event. But Tuesday afternoon, the foundation had removed all the sponsors’ names from its website.
Maybe next the group will scrub Scott’s name, too, and give the “honor” to someone else.
That would be the perfect way to end this prank.
©2015 The Orlando Sentinel