Gov. Rick Scott is one boot-step closer to denaturizing Florida’s state parks.
A Senate committee last week voted 7-1 to confirm Jon Steverson as Scott’s hand-picked choice to lead the shriveled and demoralized Department of Environmental Protection.
One of Steverson’s missions is to fulfill the governor’s dream of opening state parks to hunting, cattle grazing and commercial timber harvesting. The second part of Steverson’s job is to take the heat for this obscene idea, and he’s getting plenty.
Environmental leaders and citizen groups have blasted the scheme, ostensibly designed to make parks pay for themselves. The full Senate refused to confirm Steverson’s nomination last spring, so he remains “interim” head of DEP for now.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Testifying last week, he insisted that Florida’s nationally honored park system is “not for sale.”
“I’m not looking to commercialize parks,” Steverson said. “And I’m not looking to ruin the park visitor experience.”
Gunfire, cowpies and logging trucks — the ideal visitor experience for you and your family!
You may wonder: Who is this stooge? At least on paper, Steverson looked more qualified for the top environmental job than his predecessor, shipping executive Herschel Vinyard Jr., who quit a year ago. A lawyer and lobbyist from North Florida, Steverson was executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Before that he’d worked as a special counsel on water issues for DEP.
Initially, his appointment was met with cautious hope in the conservation community, but Steverson has wasted no time doing Scott’s dirty work. He orchestrated a purge of the top staff of the St. Johns Water Management District, including experienced and well-respected managers involved in water-quality policy for 18 counties.
The move was vintage Scott, who’s been trying to weaken the water agencies and seize more control. He prefers to wage his war on the environment from behind the curtain, letting others get the blame for his extreme agenda. He won’t admit it’s his idea to rape the parks, just as he never admits his role in other blunders, like Attorney General Pam Bondi’s embarrassing intervention on behalf of polluters to block the faraway cleanup of Chesapeake Bay.
Despite opposition from even some Republican legislators, Steverson hasn’t backed away from the governor’s plan to open our parks to activities that have been banned since 1935.
Initially, Steverson told lawmakers he wanted to allow timber operations and cattle grazing in parks to raise money, which was bad enough. Then a “hunting” category appeared on a DEP checklist of “Potential Park Activities/Facilities.”
People usually visit a park to watch the wild birds and animals, not shoot them. But where you and your kids might see natural beauty, Steverson sees a revenue source.
The state made a literal killing off the recent black bear hunt, raking in more than $376,000 in permit fees. None of the 298 bears that died were stalked in public parks, but that could change.
Bears, deer, turkey, raccoons, quail and dove might soon be racing for cover, providing the loggers leave enough trees. Presumably the grazing cows owned by private ranchers will be off-limits to park hunters.
Albert Gregory, a former parks planning chief who retired after three decades with DEP, told the Tampa Bay Times: “Of all the activities being contemplated, hunting is the most incompatible with state parks.”
Originally, Steverson and his staff envisioned legalized hunting only in parks larger than 1,000 acres, but the Times has reported that it’s now being considered as an option for parks of all sizes.
Such a proposal would be incomprehensible under any other governor. Blue Spring, Ichetucknee, Crystal River, Cedar Key, the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock to name a few — these parks are sanctuaries treasured by Floridians.
Steverson says each one will be evaluated individually before any changes are are made. Based on his actions so far, there’s no chance he’ll do the right thing.
The governor’s obvious philosophy is that public lands don’t really belong to the public, but rather exist to be privately exploited. Jack Latvala, a senior GOP senator from Clearwater, denounced the hunting plan as “a disaster waiting to happen.”
You’re wrong, Jack. The disaster is already here. The Senate can stall it by rejecting Jon Steverson’s DEP appointment when he comes up for a floor vote during the next session.
Maybe he’s not a terrible person, but he’s got a terrible boss. Send them both a message.