Tuesday, November 17, 2015

9-word Answer to Hunting in State Parks Proposal

The St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore promises to protect 130,000 acres of Florida's finest parks from Governor RICHARD LYNN SCOTT's inane plan to allow hunting and other obscene incursions in our parks. www.staugustgreen.com

St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. Now. www.staugustgreen.com

or else:

Keep hunters, loggers, ranchers out of Florida parks
Randy Schultz
Rick Scott wants to tarnish Florida's gold medal-winning park system

When will Gov. Rick Scott's administration realize that Floridians want their parks to be parks? Not profit centers. Not cattle ranches. Certainly not hunting grounds.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported Sunday, the latest bad idea from the so-called Department of Environmental Protection is a proposal to allow hunting in all of Florida's 161 parks. One wonders what game is available at Birch State Park and John Lloyd State Park in Broward County, or the wonderful John D. MacArthur State Park in Palm Beach County. How would someone hunt at Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo? It's underwater. Spearfishing remains illegal.

Not to worry. The DEP will find a way. The timing also is exquisite. Two weeks ago, a state-sanctioned, weeklong black bear hunt that science didn't support and hunters abused was stopped after two days.

"Florida's parks," said Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, "are places where people go to see wildlife, not kill them."

We last heard from DEP Secretary Jon Steverson in September. He was running off the director of the South Florida Water Management District, who fell from favor for insufficiently cheerleading the tax cut Scott wanted. It further deprived the district of needed revenue.

Steverson, though, is a Scott favorite — willing to carry out the governor's policies, no matter how harmful. Scott got Steverson the director's job at the Northwest Florida Water Management District, where Steverson cut staff and lowered the budget because, well, that's what the governor wanted. Scott rewarded Steverson by letting him run the agency that oversees Florida's park system.

It's a fine system. As Steverson said during the August meeting of the Florida Cabinet, it's the only park system to have won three gold medals from the National Recreation and Park Association. Florida has achieved that status by letting the parks be parks. Yet Steverson went on — with no apparent irony — to tell the Cabinet why Florida's great parks should be less like parks and more like, say, logging areas.

At that time, Steverson didn't include hunting as a possible new activity. Since then, however, hunting has gone on the list. Heading to the beach? Pack sunscreen, umbrella and a Remington.

In a letter to Scott, State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, wrote that hunting at Honeymoon Island State Park in Pinellas County would be "a disaster waiting to happen." A condo complex, Latvala said, is within rifle range of the park. "Tourists do not visit beaches in Florida to go hunting." What old-school thinking.

Draper points out a practical problem: "Once you get hunters in there, all other uses have to stop." During hunting season, the state's wildlife management areas — such as Francis Taylor in Broward and J.W. Corbett in Palm Beach County — are closed to other activities. Florida already has several million acres of state land available for hunting.

Behind this goofy idea is Scott's wrongheaded notion that Florida's parks should be financially self-sustaining. Revenue covers only about 75 percent of expenses. But the Legislature has been adding money for parks. In a tough budget year, the public would expect Scott to keep the parks top-notch by diverting other money or raising fees.

Scott began pushing this approach not long after taking office in January 2011. There followed a proposal for a campground at MacArthur State Park, which would be like piping heavy metal into a Yo-Yo Ma performance. You cross the boardwalk at MacArthur to escape the modern world, not find it. A bill in the Legislature would have allowed Jack Nicklaus to build golf courses in five state parks, including Jonathan Dickinson in Martin County. People go to there to canoe, not to break par. And Florida has no shortage of golf courses. Opposition to Scott's thinking was widespread and bipartisan.

After Steverson laid out his plans during that August Cabinet meeting, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam recommended that he scrap them. Most parks, Putnam said, never will be self-sustaining "and they shouldn't."

The best comment, however, came from a former biologist at Myakka River State Park — one of the prettiest. Steverson's agenda, she said, "is not the agenda of the people of Florida, and he has not been listening to the people." That's because Steverson is listening only to the governor.

Randy Schultz is the former editorial page editor of The Palm Beach Post. He also blogs for Boca Raton Magazine.

Copyright © 2015, Sun Sentinel

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