State parks were never envisioned as being managed for resource consumptive uses such as hunting, timbering and grazing. Yet that is exactly what Gov. Scott and DEP Secretary Jon Steverson are actively pursuing in an effort to “make state parks self supporting.” Never mind the $2.1 billion per year
Never mind the $2.1 billion per year economic impact our parks have on the state and local communities. Is that not enough? And don’t forget the 30 million paying park visitors per year who seem to like them just the way they are and don’t mind that tax dollars are used to help support them. Our parks are currently about 75 percent self supporting which is one of the highest percentages in the country. The national parks are less than 10 percent self supporting.
Allowing these private uses will undermine the legacy that is held in public trust for all Floridians and visitors to the state. We would lose traditional long term values that parks provide to all, for the short term financial gain of a few special interests.
State forests, totaling over 1 million acres, are managed by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Forestry for forest management including timbering. They also allow hunting. Wildlife Management Areas, totaling nearly 6 million acres, are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission primarily for hunting and fishing. They also harvest timber.
State parks, totaling under 800 thousand acres with 30 million visitors annually, are managed by the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks for — at least for now — non-consumptive, resource-based outdoor recreation including camping, hiking, wildlife viewing, picnicking, swimming and boating.
Chapter 258.037 Florida Statutes was adopted in 1949 and has successfully guided park management for 66 years. It states, in part: “It shall be the policy of the Division of Recreation and Parks: To promote the state park system for the use, enjoyment and benefit of the people of Florida and visitors; to acquire typical portions of the original domain of the state… of such character as to emblemize the state’s natural values; conserve these natural values for all time; administer the development, use and maintenance of these lands …in such a manner as to enable the people…to enjoy these values without depleting them.”
There is no ambiguity in the above language and nowhere does it allow for consumptive use. Park users should be outraged by the unprecedented proposed private use of park lands which have been protected and preserved by dedicated park rangers since 1935. I don’t object to hunting, grazing and timbering on state lands managed by other agencies, but such uses are simply incompatible with state park values.
Parks serve as estates for the vast majority of citizens who otherwise could never enjoy the experience of unexploited wilderness with all of its natural elements. We can’t afford to stand by silently while this administration plans to diminish the quality of our treasured state parks in defiance of well documented public opinion.
George Apthorp worked in the Division of Recreation and Parks from 1969 to 2001 in various capacities including as a member of the land acquisition review team analyzing potential new park lands for compatible recreational activities.