Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Opinion

Dockery: Plenty of space for hunting besides parks

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The perfect example of "if it ain't broke" is Florida's State Park System. At least it was before Gov. Rick Scott and his Department of Environmental Protection secretaries started to meddle.

Our park system was the envy of the nation, having been awarded the Gold Medal for outstanding park system an unprecedented three times.

But Scott and his latest DEP secretary, Jon Steverson, apparently don't see the value in managing and maintaining natural areas for the enjoyment of our residents and tourists. They also miss the importance of preserving these lands — owned by the people of Florida — in perpetuity for future generations to enjoy experiencing the real Florida and all its natural splendor.

Instead, they want to force incompatible agricultural uses into the parks. They tried to sell this scheme as "resource management" but nobody was buying it. Clearly it's an attempt to commercialize and privatize our state parks for private profit.

This is not their first attempt.

They tried to put golf courses in our parks, and there was a public outcry. Then they tried to push commercial camping at Honeymoon Island State Park and several others. Thousands showed up in protest.

Now they insist the parks must be self-sufficient. Park managers and those who have dedicated their professional lives to our parks have offered solutions to generate more revenue that would not be detrimental to our natural resources. Those ideas were dismissed.

Their real goal is to force cattle grazing and timber harvesting on state park lands. These are the very lands we purchased to preserve our natural resources. Now we're inviting others to exploit them for personal gain.

We have over a million acres of state-owned lands managed by the Division of Forestry. Why not look to them for sustainable timber harvesting?

It's disturbing that Scott and Steverson would risk ruining our parks with this façade of self-sufficiency. The parks are already 77 percent self-sufficient with $60 million generated by park users.

Here's a real head-scratcher. A bill (SB 570) was introduced that would create a state park entrance fee holiday for a year.

How does that achieve the goal of self-sufficiency? Where would that $60 million come from? Could it be that without entry fees more cattle grazing and logging would be permitted?

Steverson has not yet received Senate confirmation for DEP secretary. Wouldn't it send a strong message if the Senate postponed or voted down his confirmation?

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam advised Steverson to drop his self-sufficiency idea for state parks. He doesn't seem to be heeding that advice.

Now Steverson is pushing for hunting in state parks. Is it because we have a lack of adequate hunting opportunities on public land?

Many of my family members are avid hunters, and I support making public lands available for hunting where appropriate. State parks are not.

There doesn't appear to be a shortage of hunting already available on public lands. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are at least 5.9 million acres of public lands open for hunting in Florida.

These include 167 Wildlife Management Areas that are geographically spread throughout the state in five regions. The WMAs are a mix of federal and state-owned lands that are available for hunting.

Ocala National Forest has 383,000 acres where you can hunt deer or turkeys. Jennings State Forest in northeast Florida has 24,033 acres with good whitetail hunting. Osceola National Forest has 200,000 acres with excellent turkey hunting. The Big Cypress National Preserve has 720,000 acres in southeast Florida with deer, turkey and pig hunting.

Hunting is allowed on 3.5 million acres (72 percent) of state-owned land; 2.4 million acres (60 percent) of federal lands in Florida; and in total, 5.9 million acres (66 percent) of all public land in Florida.

The State Park System seems small by comparison, with 671,846 total acres representing less than 14 percent of all state-owned lands.

Why, then, do Scott and Steverson insist on pushing hunting into our parks? Not only is it incompatible with the mission of our state parks, it is also unsafe for our families who are enjoying them.

Shooting wildlife in our state parks is best done with a camera.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at [email protected]

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