Editorial: Bad parks plan
Published: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 25, 2015 at 2:21 p.m.
Jon Steverson, Florida’s new environmental regulation chief, and his boss, Gov. Rick Scott, believe the state’s award-winning park system must operate akin to tolls along the Florida Turnpike.
The Scott administration has proposed opening up public lands set aside for conservation to “low-impact” agriculture. The plan affects at least 1.2 million acres, or about 3 percent of Florida’s total acreage.
According to proposed legislation — which, thankfully, was put on hold by the abrupt end of the legislative session — state land managers would review properties held for conservation at least every 10 years and determine which parcels must be kept for that purpose. If not, the land could be sold, or offered to a prospective user provided he or she agrees to a permanent conservation easement that allows the state to retain ownership.
The plan applies only to uplands outside the boundaries of documented wetlands.
Amazingly, the bills did not precisely define low-impact agriculture, but indicate that refers to “any agricultural activity” that remains “consistent with an adopted land management plan and does not adversely impact the land’s conservation purposes.”
It is an outrageous and dangerous idea.
Three former state parks administrators recently came out against the idea. Ney Landrum, Fran Mainella and Mike Bullock — whose combined tenure as directors of Florida’s parks spanned 38 years between 1970 and 2010 — urged parks proponents to “cast a wary eye” on the proposals. The trio noted that even low-impact agriculture could produce disturbances that “can be harmful in places such as state parks where the maintenance of delicate natural conditions is so important.”
Another former high-ranking DEP official, Jim Stevenson, once the parks division’s chief biologist and chairman of Gov. Jeb Bush’s springs task force, told the Tampa Bay Times the idea was “the biggest threat to the park system I’ve ever seen.”
More importantly, Landrum, Mainella and Bullock questioned whether Florida’s park system — the only one in the country to be awarded the national Gold Medal Award for Excellence three times — should pay for itself.
Steverson has said he wants the parks, which now generate about 77 cents of revenue for each $1 spent on them, to be “self-sustaining.”
Mainella and Bullock wrote that it “misses the point of why we have a public state park system. There is no more justification or need to make state parks pay for themselves than to do the same with public roads, schools or health facilities.”
Since Gov. Scott took office, the state has proposed adding golf courses and hotels to parks, as well as permitting contractors to build private tent and RV campgrounds in them. Approved were plans to put billboards on hiking trails and to sell surplus park property in order to buy more park space.
All were designed to make money at the expense of arguably the best park system in America. Thankfully, none of those went anywhere, beaten down by public opposition. This latest proposal deserves the same fate.