Gov. Rick Scott made a surprising pick to lead Florida’s state park system: a bona fide environmentalist. Eric Draper, head of the environmental group Audubon Florida, is also a political player who can navigate the dealmaking that goes on in Tallahassee. He should be well suited to preserve the parks’ legacy as public treasures worthy of conservation.
Draper fills the job that has been vacant since February, when former director Lisa Edgar resigned after just two months in the post. She was never qualified for the job, and her appointment was blatantly political. Edgar had been a reliable ally for Scott on the Public Service Commission, where she was often criticized for siding with utilities over consumers. She replaced the longtime parks director, Donald Forgione, who had worked his way up from park ranger to head of the agency. Scott demoted him.
Scott is expected to run for the U.S. Senate, and Draper provides some environmental credibility. He has been a prominent voice on Everglades restoration, rural land conservation and water projects. But his record is not perfect. As Audubon director, Draper should have been more vocal in opposing Scott and the Legislature in their annual efforts to chip away at Florida’s environmental protections.
Working on the inside, Draper can combine his environmentalist credentials with his political knowhow and make a positive impact by working to preserve Florida’s park system as an asset that benefits all Floridians.