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Gov. Rick Scott as environmental champion? Yes, says foundation headed by developer

This year the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida is giving its annual conservation award to Gov. Rick Scott and his wife, Ann. The foundation executive director, Brett Boston, said the award had no name. In 2013, though, when Boston, left, presented the trophy to Bass Pro Shop founder Johnny Morris, the award had a name: the BlueGreen Award for Conservation Leadership in Florida. [Bass Pro Shops]
Published Jul. 28, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration has pushed to open the parks to cattle grazing and timber harvesting, offered polluters ways to get out of fines and sharply cut back staffing and regulations designed to protect Florida's natural resources, is getting an award for being a friend to the environment.

The award, announced via email last week, is being given to Scott later this year by the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, which functions as a support group for the state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is run by gubernatorial appointees.

In the announcement, the foundation's chairman, Miami real estate developer and lobbyist Rodney Barreto, hailed Scott for being "instrumental in helping develop a strong connection between fish and wildlife conservation and traditional outdoor activities like hunting and especially fishing."

The governor will share the award with first lady Ann Scott, who, Barreto said, "is an outdoors enthusiast in her own right, dedicated to getting our kids outdoors. Together they provide leadership for effective conservation and youth engagement in Florida."

The Sierra Club's Frank Jackalone reacted to the news of Scott's award with laughter.

"No one in their right mind would give Rick Scott an award for protecting wildlife," he said.

Brett Boston, the foundation's executive director, said the award has no name and is intended only to salute Scott for his support of the foundation's Florida Youth Conservation Centers.

"We are very apolitical," Boston said. He acknowledged Scott might be a controversial pick for the award, but said other selections might be too.

"People complained about Mother Teresa," he said.

Last year the award did have a name: the BlueGreen Award for Conservation Leadership in Florida. Last year's winner was state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who Boston said was honored for his work on state water policy, which was popular with business and agriculture officials but not with environmental groups and water experts.

Recently, the foundation set up a booth at a boating industry event for an event promoting fishing in Florida, and Scott stopped by. When the foundation posted a photo on its Facebook page of Scott's visit, none of the four comments below the photo were complimentary. One just said, "Ugh!"

Scott has touted his increased spending on Everglades restoration projects and springs restoration — although PolitiFact rated his claim of "record funding" for the environment to be "Pants on Fire."

Scott has cut funding for the state's water districts, vetoed funding for all the state's regional planning councils, and eliminated money for a University of Florida lab considered key to stopping invasive species from ruining the state's agriculture and environment.

In addition, Scott's Department of Environmental Protection has shifted away from punishing polluters with fines and other penalties to instead assisting polluters with getting back into compliance. Scott praised the DEP last year for cutting the amount of time it takes to get a permit to a mere two days — down from 44 days when Jeb Bush was governor.

Scott's DEP has also made several controversial moves to alter the award-winning state park system — selling off some land as surplus, for instance, or opening some parks to timber harvesting and cattle grazing or even hunting.

The governor has long questioned whether climate change is real, despite having scientists meet with him personally to explain it. According to some former DEP employees, he has banned state officials from using that term, although his office has denied that.

The award for Scott and his wife is to be given to the state's first couple at the foundation's annual BlueGreen Event on Nov. 14. The list of sponsors includes Bass Pro Shops, TECO Energy, Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power, the St. Joe Co., the Florida Wildlife Federation, Mote Marine Laboratory and Audubon of Florida.

The event is scheduled to be held on a ranch owned by state wildlife Commissioner Ron "Alligator" Bergeron, a developer, paving contractor and rodeo champion who nearly lost several fingers wrestling an alligator. Bergeron was the only wildlife commissioner to vote against bringing back bear hunting in Florida for the first time since 1994.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

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