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Audubon executive director is tapped to run state park system -- but not everyone is a fan

Eric Draper, who has run Audubon Florida since 2009, was once vilified as “the worst environmentalist in Florida”
Eric Draper has been executive director of Audubon Florida since 2009. Now he will become the new head of Florida's award-winning park system. Photo by Audubon Florida
Published Nov. 3, 2017

Under Gov. Rick Scott, Florida’s award-winning park system has gone through a lot of trials and tribulations. Legislators wanted to build golf courses there, and one former Department of Environmental Protection secretary wanted to allow hunting, cattle grazing and timber harvesting in some of them. Last December, with no explanation given, the longtime boss of the park system, Donald Forgione, was demoted and replaced by a Public Service Commission member named Lisa Edgar -- who abruptly resigned two months later and was subsequently charged with DUI and hit-and-run.

The position has been vacant ever since Edgar quit in February, but now the new state parks director has been named, and it’s a familiar one around Tallahassee -- Eric Draper, who has been executive director of Audubon Florida since 2009.

Draper will assume the post Nov. 28, overseeing ore than 1,000 park rangers, managers, biologists, planners and other staff. Calls to Draper seeking comment were not returned. Interim Audubon Florida executive director Julie Wraithmell said Draper is “taking a break from media engagement.”

Audubon Florida sent out a news release featuring this quote from David Yarnold, National Audubon Society president, hailing his selection: “Eric leaves Audubon with a legacy of real accomplishments. From partnering on the restoration of the Everglades, to working with the State on designating or expanding 18 Florida Critical Wildlife Areas, Eric has been a model state director for Audubon...The State of Florida is fortunate to have his commitment to conservation and his consummate political skills.”

Not everyone is such a fan of Draper’s lobbying and political skills, however. In 2014, the “Eye on Miami” blog declared Draper “the worst environmentalist in Florida” for supporting Scott‘s most recent appointees to the South Florida Water Management District Board. In 2012, Earth First! activists called for him to be fired because of his efforts to seek compromises with miners and utilities, and suggested that the Everglades Coalition give him its first annual “Snake In the Grass Award.”

Before going to work for Audubon, Draper, a Florida native, previously served as staff director for the Florida House of Representatives Majority Office, and led The Nature Conservancy’s Florida government relations program.

Draper will report to Scott’s latest DEP boss, Noah Valenstein, a former Everglades Foundation legislative affairs director and Suwannee River Water Management District executive director. When Valenstein got the job in May, Draper called him “a breath of fresh air” for the department that had gone through a rocky run under Scott’s two previous secretaries. After his appointment, reports revealed Valenstein had started a lobbying business that his wife now runs, but he insisted it is not a conflict of interest.

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