Wednesday, November 18, 2015

No hunting in FL state parks: Record editorial

Editorial: It's open season on state parks
Posted: November 17, 2015 - 8:15pm | Updated: November 18, 2015 - 12:01am

If Florida’s unofficial troubadour, Gamble Rogers, had an inkling of what the Department of Environmental Protection and Gov. Rick Scott were brewing up, he’d likely write a song about it, or develop a short, razor-sharp monologue. He might call it “What’s the bag limit on snowy egrets these days?” or “Mama’s in the tent, daddy’s in the tree stand.”

But, of course he can’t, because he lost his life 14 years ago in the surf of Flagler Beach trying to save a drowning man in the state park that is now named in his memory. He would find humor in the newest directive by DEP Secretary Jon Steverson that adds “Hunting” to the checklist of potential park activities that park directors fill in for the state’s 161 state parks.

Steverson is the third secretary in three years for the DEP. Two previous department heads apparently butted heads with Scott over his insistence that the state monetize state parks and wound up on the wrong end of the unemployment line.

This is the latest volley in the effort to make the state park system pay its own way. Reports say it’s pulling 77 percent of its own weight, but there are plans to close the gap. Initially activities included timbering and open cattle grazing.

While Gamble Rogers State Park lent itself to an editorial opening, it’s not alone. Other parks mandated to look at grazing, logging and critter-shooting include Anastasia State Park, Faver-Dykes, Washington Oaks, Goldhead Branch, Ravine Gardens, Dunn’s Creek, Guana and yes, even our own Fort Mose (to be billed the nation’s first free black settlement — with a heck of a hog wallow to boot).

Anastasia State Park is already under pressure to expand its services, amenities, campsites and RV slots in order to jack up the profits.

But at some point — and we’re already past it — when does a state park quit being a park? When does it become a campground? When do Honda generators drown out the small sounds of the night? When are the hardwoods cut for profit, not preserved for pleasure? At what point do we share the wild places with herds of feral cattle and when do we plink possums off picnic tables?

None of the parks, we’re told, will be required to embrace all mandated amenities. But why are they mandated to list them?

Perhaps we simply don’t understand the definition of “state park.” We thought they were funded by taxpayers who want to get away and by those with an environmental conscience who understand that they protect some of the more important pieces of Old Florida. Find an unaccosted maritime hammock outside Anastasia, Faver-Dykes, Talbot Island or Guana. The state’s more important springs and spring runs are guarded by state parks. The list goes on and on.

Monetizing these quiet place is an insult, really, and to more than the senses. If the parks were raped of stillness for the bottom line, the savings would go into the black hole of the general fund, most likely for tax breaks to businesses in order to lure more development. It’s a double-whammy and a senseless one.

The DEP is under fire and trying hard to backpedal, but not change the song.

The Tampa Bay Times quoted a DEP spokesman this week who insulted thinking residents as well as our veterans when she told the Times that specialized hunts such as those organized for non-profits like Wounded Warriors in Action might be considered “in appropriate locations.”

That’s pretty low, laying the compromise of Florida’s state parks on the backs of our combat wounded. That’s like saying the grazing scheme is to provide beef for the homeless, or timbering will provide notebook paper and pencils for low-income elementary students — not the lucrative grazing and logging rights inherently involved.

No comments: