Petition opposes agricultural expansion for Paynes Prairie

DSC00092ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla – Paynes Prairie may soon expand when it comes to agricultural activities, meant to help the park pay for itself. It’s a concept the Department of Environmental Protection is thinking about. However ne petition opposing the idea, has gained thousands of signatures.

The petition is called Paynes Prairie in Danger and it has more than 12,000 signatures. The people who signed it are asking officials– to keep their hands off the state park.

Paynes Prairie is a 20,000-acre savanna between Gainesville and Micanopy. Shirley Lasseter a nature lover in Gainesville started the petition, she said, “Everytime you go it’s different, one time there will be lotus, one time there will be bison, one time there will be… the cranes will be here.”

But the way it currently operates may change– the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is considering a proposal to open up Paynes Prairie for cattle grazing and other commercial uses.

The goal is to have the Florida state park system pay for itself. “They’re never gonna pay for themselves,” said Chris Bird with Alachua County’s Environmental Protection Department.

This proposed revenue generating initiative is meant to benefit agriculture as much as the environment. However not everyone agrees with the idea.

Garrett Quinlivan who signed the petition said, “The parks were created for their value and for nature and for limited recreation, not for agricultural purposes.”

Lasseter says she started the petition to oppose the efforts by Governor Rick Scott and the DEP to allow cattle ranching, timbering or hunting in Paynes Prairie.

“To not try to do these kind of commercial and private enterprises on our private land. Preservation of nature and public enjoyment and not grazing and timbering and hunting and things like that. There are other places like that not our public lands,” Lasseter said.

Alachua County sent a letter to the DEP expressing their concern. Bird says that some of the things being proposed are appropriate, but only in moderation. “The cattle grazing, you know in paynes prairie there are places where we can’t, because it’s near the interstate, we can’t do the prescribed fire that they used to do and in the old days you know lightning would hit and it would get rid of all this under brush and you can’t do that anymore,” he added.

We reached out Governor Rick Scott’s office for a statement, however we have not heard back from them. The state plans to take bids by commercial interests by the end of this year.