Left to Right, Austin Moro, 18, Timothy Johnson, 18, and Nick Napoleon, 18, enjoy the unseasonably warm holiday weather at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, on Wednesday, December 21, 2015. The three graduated from Lake Brantley, and are now college freshmen. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel)
A park is usually defined as public land kept in a largely natural state to be used for recreation. It’s not a place to be degraded for profit. Florida has some spectacular parks where one can stroll in the woods, float down a river or view wildlife. Now, state officials are considering additional activities at some parks — hunting, logging and cattle grazing.
When the news broke, Carl Hiaasen, the poet laureate of Florida wackiness, wrote: “Gunfire, cowpies and logging trucks — the ideal visitor experience for you and your family!”
We wonder if the business-oriented administrators at the state Department of Environmental Protection, who run state parks, recognized that comment as satirical. While DEP Secretary Jon Steverson says such criticism is based on exaggeration of his plans, look at the available information.
DEP is going through a process known by its hardly pastoral name as a “unit management plan.” Each of Florida’s 174 parks (or “units”) will have to come up with a management plan (read “business plan”) that will consider activities such as hunting, logging and cattle grazing. Steverson has said hunting would be considered only at the largest parks.
A push for more hunting in state parks is particularly a concern. One of Steverson’s first hires after being appointed DEP secretary was Gary Clark, who has a strong connection to hunting. Clark, who as deputy secretary of DEP oversees state park operations and land management, has been called “probably the best quail guide in the South” by hunting and fishing website BD Outdoors.
Clark co-owns a bobwhite quail hunting preserve near Chipley. It could be Clark’s best qualification for the job, according to Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney who heads up the Florida chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “[Clark] must have been brought in to oversee the introduction of hunting to the state parks,” Phillips told the Tampa Bay Times.
Hunting isn’t compatible with other recreational activities at state parks, even large ones. And the stakes for failure are high. Florida parks generate $1.2 billion in economic activity and support 18,500 jobs. Fran Mainella, who served as director of both the state and national parks systems, told the DEP: “It would be a shame to jeopardize such a prized public asset by misguided or inappropriate actions.” […]