1. News

State parks being reviewed for places to allow hunting

Initially the "hunting" category was only for the larger parks. But three weeks ago the planners were told to apply it to each of the state's 161 parks, including beachfront and bayfront parks like Honeymoon Island State Park near Dunedin, pictured, and Cockroach Bay Preserve State Park near Ruskin. [Times files]
Published Dec. 9, 2015

Every Florida state park is now being considered as a potential killing field.

A checklist that park planners use in reviewing what can be allowed in Florida's park system now calls for adding hunting as a possible activity.

Initially the "hunting" category was only for the larger parks, according to former Department of Environmental Protection park planner Enid Ehrbar. But three weeks ago, she said, the planners were told to apply it to each of the state's 161 parks.

That means it would include not just Hillsborough River State Park in Thonotosassa, but also beachfront and bayfront parks like Honeymoon Island State Park near Dunedin and Cockroach Bay Preserve State Park near Ruskin. Even the Ybor City Museum State Park would have to face the question of whether hunters could find something to shoot there.

"It's an outrage," Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club said Thursday. "It's shocking that they would pervert the meaning of our state parks that way."

Created in 1935, the parks system is intended to preserve unique portions of Florida's natural landscape. Hunting hardly fits with that mission, say parks advocates.

But DEP Secretary Jon Steverson, whom Gov. Rick Scott appointed to lead the DEP last year, is trying to make the parks pay for themselves by adding in previously banned activities.

He has said that parks pay only 77 percent of their expenses, and he wants that number to be 100 percent.

In March, he told a state legislative committee that he wanted to make the parks pay for themselves by adding timber harvesting, cattle grazing and other money-making activities.

Steverson did not mention the word "hunting" to lawmakers. But his staff put together a presentation that included not just cattle and timber as new money-making park activities, but also hunting as an "action step." The goal was to "implement wherever possible" by Dec. 31.

When the Times first revealed that document in June, DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said the presentation was outdated and that it hadn't been vetted by Steverson. She did say, however, that hunting was being considered.

Subsequently, the DEP amended a two-page checklist called "Potential Park Activities/Facilities" to include hunting.

For the past five or six years, DEP officials have required park planners to use the checklist when reviewing the park management plans, said former parks planning chief Albert Gregory. In earlier versions of the checklist, boat ramps, kayak launch sites, concession stands and dog parks were among the choices.

"It was to show that we had considered all the possibilities," Gregory said, who retired last year after nearly 30 years with the agency. "If something was not suitable, then we would have to explain why."

He said that while he was at the DEP, hunting was never a choice — for obvious reasons.

"Of all the activities being contemplated, hunting is most incompatible with the state parks," Gregory said.

That was then.

Three months ago, "they added stuff like hunting, timber harvesting and cattle grazing," said Ehrbar, who quit her job as a DEP park planner on Oct. 21 because she disagreed with the direction of the division.

Some activities were elaborate, such as "alternative energy" — windmills and solar panels — and the sale of "hardwood chippings" for use in biofuel plants.

Initially, Ehrbar said, the planning staff was told that this updated list was to be used only for parks of more than 1,000 acres. But in early October, she said, word came down from top managers that the checklist was to be applied to all parks.

The checklist does not specify what kind of hunting might be allowed. Hunters might be permitted to shoot deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, otter, bobcat, raccoons, beavers, quail, dove, feral hogs, coyotes and — if a second season is approved after the controversy over the first one — bears.

Under Scott, DEP's management of state lands has repeatedly drawn public protests. In 2011, Scott pulled the plug on a plan to add campgrounds at Honeymoon Island after it sparked opposition. He's had two directors of the state's land division quit in the last two years after questions arose about their efforts to monetize public property.

In August, Steverson was chided by members of the Florida Cabinet for not being forthcoming with the public on how he plans to alter the parks. Even Scott advised his appointee that he should be "sitting down with all the people that use the state parks and make sure we're doing the right thing."

"It seems like everybody is ready to kill it in the cradle," Steverson said then. "I am in no way trying to harm the parks."

Repeated requests by the Times to interview Steverson have been declined by his staff. They say he is far too busy to talk to reporters.

DEP spokeswoman Lauren Engel said the checklist is designed to help planners identify potential activities for each park, but that none of the activities are required. Special hunts, like those organized by nonprofits like Wounded Warriors in Action, might be considered by the DEP "in appropriate locations," she said.

"At this time, there are currently no proposals to open any parks to additional hunting," Engel said.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.


  1. First page of school data report Times staff
    Find your school in these reports.
  2. Colleen Beaudoin is selected Pasco County School Board chairwoman for 2020, and Allen Altman is named vice chairman. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff
    Altman chosen as vice chairman.
  3. Melissa Snively and Steve Cona III are the new chair and vice chair of the Hillsborough County School Board. MARLENE   |  Times staff
    Steve Cona III is vice chair.
  4. The David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa was one of several buildings named for the philanthropist and banker. [DENNIS JOYCE   |   Times] DENNIS JOYCE  |  Tampa Bay Times (2018)
    The David A. Straz Jr Foundation donated more than $33 million to dozens of organizations in nearly 20 years
  5. Port Tampa Bay president and CEO Paul Anderson. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times (2017)]
    Port commissioners approved the raise after a year with milestone achievements on several fronts.
  6. United States Air Force veteran Daniel Carmichael, of Inverness, shares his opinion before a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners of Citrus County on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, at the Citrus County Courthouse in Inverness, where the Citrus County Commission is expected to render a decision on whether to get digital subscriptions for the New York Times for all 70,000 of the county library cardholders. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes
    After two hours of debate, a motion to move forward with digital subscriptions for library cardholders fails 3-2.
  7. A sinkhole opened up beneath a phosphogypsum stack at Mosaic's Mulberry plant in 2016, draining 215 million gallons of waste into the aquifer below. Neither the company nor the state Department of Environmental Protection notified the public until a television report revealed what happened. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times (2016)]
    Problem at Bartow plant began in October, but public was given no notice.
  8. In December 2017, two masked motorcycle gang members were accused of assassinating Paul Anderson, 44,  president of the Cross Bayou chapter of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club while his pickup was stopped at a traffic light in Pasco County. [Pasco County Sheriffs Office]
    Evidence from the federal trial of two members of the 69′ers Motorcycle Club offers a rare glimpse of the world of outlaw biker gangs.
  9. David Straz and his wife Catherine at Karamu, the annual black-tie gala at ZooTampa in April. AMY SCHERZER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The future of Straz’s foundation remained unclear Tuesday. Meanwhile, police say Straz died of natural causes at a Citrus County waterfront home.
  10. David Straz Jr. passed away this week at age 77. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The retired banker supported causes from the arts to the zoo. Here’s a sampling of reaction to his death.