Florida State Parks May Have to Pay Their Way
The Sierra Club is against a bill in a Florida House committee that would allow hunting, lumbering and cattle grazing in state parks in order to increase state revenues.
Though Florida's 161 state parks bring in roughly $60 million annually via 20 million annual visitors, there is currently a $20 million deficit in the parks’ budget.
Mark Walters is chair of the Sierra Club Florida Chapter. He and other members, along with local environmental organization Urban Paradise Guild, protested outside of Oleta River State Park in North Miami Beach over the weekend. It was one of several state parks in Florida where rallies against the bill took place.
“What we really need is for our parks to remain open,” he says, “and be for our citizens in general -- to spend time to recreate and enjoy. Not for cattle grazing.”
Advocates also say the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to debase management and conditions of parks in order to vindicate privatizing operations.
Rep. Matt Caldwell, of North Fort Myers, sponsored the State Lands bill.
“I do think it’s wise for the parks system to focus on being self sufficient,” he says. “The agencies that are self sufficient are going to have more flexibility on their management decisions than those that have to turn to the general revenue for funding.”
He says activities such as hunting, logging and cattle grazing are already allowed and do occur in some state parks. Cattle grazing, he says, is an effective way to keep invasive plants at bay.
Activists are also angry that funds from Florida Forever, the state’s conservation land acquisition program, would be used to pump fresh water out of parks. It would go to outside counties to meet the needs of growing populations.
Caldwell said he’ll introduce a series of amendments to address concerns raised by environmental advocates, regarding water resource developments.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement: “There are no proposals to expand hunting or cattle grazing in any state parks at this time, nor are there any ‘commercial’ or other timbering activities proposed or under way that are inconsistent with any park’s current unit management plan.”
“They’re saying one thing publicly,” says Walters, “but behind the scenes, they’re doing something else.”