Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

To boost state park funds, DEP considers allowing hunting

To generate more money for the state, Florida's popular state parks could see more than just timber harvesting and cattle-grazing added to the bird-watching, camping, canoeing, kayaking and hiking activities allowed now.

How about hunting?

The boom of gunfire could begin echoing through Florida's award-winning parks system by December under a Department of Environmental Protection plan contained in documents obtained Friday by the Tampa Bay Times.

The documents did not specify which of the state parks might be suitable spots for hunters to shoot deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, otter, bobcat, raccoons, beavers, quail, dove, feral hogs, coyotes and — if the state wildlife commission approves a hunting season this month — bear. A review of the parks that could be targeted "for immediate implementation" would begin within 30 to 60 days if approved.

The news that this is being considered caught environmental advocates by surprise — understandable, given the history involved.

"There has never been hunting in state parks," said Albert Gregory, who spent 35 years working for the state park system, most of it as the chief planner. The reason, he said, is that letting hunters kill the animals in the park's boundaries is "fundamentally incompatible" with the purpose of a state park.

"Hunting is a perfectly legitimate form of outdoor recreation, but it just plain doesn't belong in state parks," Gregory said.

"State parks are supposed to be a place that protects wildlife, not a place to kill them," said Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club. "Talk about destroying the recreational experience for people."

And Laurie MacDonald of the Defenders of Wildlife said, "Our state lands already have so much pressure on them, there should be some area that's set aside for wildlife."

Although environmental groups may oppose the idea, look for hunters to say hallelujah.

"I think a lot of hunters will say that there are some places in the state park system where you could have hunting and not interfere with the other park activities," said Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation, an environmental advocacy group in favor of hunting.

Florida's park system is known throughout the country for its beauty and diversity — from the soaring sugar-white dunes of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in the Panhandle to the lush and mysterious depths of the Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park near Gainesville. Florida is the only state that has won a prestigious national award for parks three times.

The parks are more than an environmental jewel — they're also an economic engine. They attract visitors, both from within the state and around the globe. A DEP analysis last year found that about 27 million people visited the parks, generating an economic impact of $2.1 billion.

But that's not enough. In March, Gov. Rick Scott's new appointee to run the DEP, Jon Steverson, told state legislators he wants to make the park system pay for itself. To that end, he said, he wanted to rent out parts of the parks to ranchers to let their cattle graze there, and to timber companies to harvest trees from the forests.

"I want to maximize value for the taxpayers, but also for the environment," he explained.

Steverson made no mention of hunting, which is currently allowed in wildlife management areas run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as well as state forests run by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

However, Steverson's parks and land staff had put together a presentation called "Optimized Land Management and Cost Recovery" that included not just cattle and timber, but hunting as an "action step."

The presentation also suggests the agency hire outside contractors to handle some of the duties now in the hands of park staff, such as prescribed burning and getting rid of exotic species.

The presentation included a time line that calls for changing park management plans to allow all three activities by Dec. 31. For cattle and timber, by the end of the year the agency would have bid documents ready to send out to ranchers and timber companies.

But for hunting, the document says of the target date of Dec. 31, "Coordinate with FWC and implement where possible."

"This presentation is outdated, and was never finalized or vetted by the secretary or other agency leadership," DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said Friday.

However, she said, hunting remains on the table as a possibility.

"No specific activities have been decided upon for inclusion or exclusion at this time," she said.

All three activities run counter to the historic basis for the park system, dating to its beginning in 1935.

For decades, "Florida's lawmakers, governors and administrators understood that a state park was … for the perpetual preservation of unique portions of original, natural Florida," Phillip A. Werndli, who recently retired as chief historian of the Florida Park Service, said in April. In fact, state law said the parks are supposed to "conserve these natural values for all time."

However, in recent years state legislators and other officials have proposed changing the parks to promote other values. In 2011, for instance, then-Sen. John Thrasher proposed legislation to allow golf courses and resort hotels in some parks. His bill was quickly withdrawn amid widespread public mockery. Even Arnold Palmer scoffed at the idea.

Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.

Comments
Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, found safe after leaving Bradenton home

Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, found safe after leaving Bradenton home

BRADENTON — Jalyssa Shannon, the sister of 13-year-old Riverview murder victim Janessa Shannon, was found safe Monday evening after leaving her mother’s Bradenton home Sunday, authorities said.Jalyssa was found about 7 p.m., according to the Manatee ...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Grocery retailer Albertsons to buy drugstore chain Rite Aid

Grocery retailer Albertsons to buy drugstore chain Rite Aid

Associated PressThe privately held owner of Safeway, Vons and other grocery brands is plunging deeper into the pharmacy business with a deal to buy Rite Aid, the nation’s third-largest drugstore chain. Albertsons Companies is offering either a share ...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Video released of suspect in sexual assault of Pasco woman, 71

Video released of suspect in sexual assault of Pasco woman, 71

NEW PORT RICHEY— Pasco County deputies have released surveillance video of a suspect in the home invasion and rape of a 71-year-old woman on Monday morning.On Monday, deputies said a woman was checking on a home at 7437 Heather St. for the homeowner ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Young child struck by vehicle in Tampa

Young child struck by vehicle in Tampa

TAMPA — A young child was injured after being struck by a vehicle Thursday morning, according to police.The crash involved a pedestrian and a vehicle near Myrtle Street and Serena Drive around 7:45 a.m., police said.The child sustained non-life threa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

The 2017 St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race was celebrated as more than a competitive regatta to Cuba’s capital city of Havana.The relaunch of the maritime competition cancelled since 1959 was hailed as a reflection of the detente started under Preside...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Forecast: After hottest day of the year, record heat to continue across Tampa Bay

Forecast: After hottest day of the year, record heat to continue across Tampa Bay

Updated: 2 hours ago
Most Americans say Trump, Congress not doing enough to stop mass shootings, Post-ABC poll finds

Most Americans say Trump, Congress not doing enough to stop mass shootings, Post-ABC poll finds

More than 6 in 10 Americans fault Congress and President Donald Trump for not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with most Americans continuing to say these incidents are more reflective of probl...
Updated: 3 hours ago
The Daystarter: Survey reveals bipartisan support assault weapons ban; St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race returns to difficult climate; commandos come to Palm Harbor; Bucs address pass rush woes

The Daystarter: Survey reveals bipartisan support assault weapons ban; St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race returns to difficult climate; commandos come to Palm Harbor; Bucs address pass rush woes

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• For the latest legislative coverage from Tallahassee, keep checking The Buzz, which is updated throughout the day by the reporters of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.• We...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Romano: Until the Parkland shooting, lawmakers ignored requests for school safety funds

Romano: Until the Parkland shooting, lawmakers ignored requests for school safety funds

His words and his pleas are similar to what we’ve heard from others in recent days.Kids deserve to feel safe when they walk into a classroom in Florida. More security is needed. More boots on the ground would be helpful. Mostly, more money must be de...
Published: 02/20/18
Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

The massive education measure known as House Bill 7055 has received plenty of attention during the legislative session, with its emphasis on decertifying teachers’ unions and using state-backed scholarship programs to steer kids away from public scho...
Published: 02/20/18