Editorial: When being best isn’t good enough

A rainstorm moves across Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in April . Doug Finger (Doug Finger/ The Gainesville Sun)
A rainstorm moves across Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in April . Doug Finger (Doug Finger/ The Gainesville Sun)

Published: Monday, August 31, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.

Florida’s parks have been recognized three times — in 1999, 2005 and 2013 — as the nation’s best park system. No other state has earned the honor that many times. Last year our parks attracted more than 27 million visitors.

But that’s not good enough for Florida officials, who are concerned that too many parks generate insufficient revenues for management. Jon Steverson, the recently confirmed head of the Department of Environmental Protection, has listed making parks more self-sustaining and less reliant on funding from the Legislature as one of his top goals. Among the potential money-making measures: allowing hunting and additional cattle grazing, as well as timber harvesting, in the parks.

That set off warning bells for environmentalists and other park supporters, who feared a move afoot by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration to commercialize and privatize parks.

At his confirmation hearing before the Cabinet earlier this month, Steverson assured members that was not the case. Nevertheless, critics suspect a wolf in Smokey Bear’s clothing — and with good reason.

The Scott administration has been at odds with much of the environmental agenda since day one, from abolishing the Department of Community Affairs to cutting funding to water management districts (and purging them of senior staff members) to joining with legislators in monkeying with Amendment 1 funding. Much of the change has occurred without advance warning, detailed explanations or input from stakeholders — which has been par for the course for many executive actions during the Scott years.

So when the DEP tried to dismiss concerns about evolving park policy, treating them as an overreaction to what it characterizes as in-house draft documents intended merely for discussion among staff, let’s just say it hasn’t exactly earned that level of trust.

The DEP’s focus on self-sustainability is a bit perplexing. First, parks, like public transportation, usually are among the “loss-leaders” of government — valued services that require subsidies because operating costs, no matter how efficient they’re made, exceed maximum revenues from users. The goal is to keep those subsidies as low as possible.[…]