Environmental Activists don’t want Florida’s state parks to be used for hunting, timbering or agricultural grazing. They met this weekend to raise concerns at 11 start parks including Wakulla Springs.
During the summer, Wakulla Springs state park is full of swimmers cooling off in the near 70 degree water. But in the winter when temperatures drop park visitors turn their attention to something different The spring’s consistent temperatures draws manatees during the cooler months and a river boat tour gives spectators a chance to spot the gentle giants along with alligators, anhinga and other native wildlife. But Dana Bryan, a retired Florida Parks service worker says state officials are considering a plan that could change that.
“If duck hunting were allowed on the Wakulla River, you wouldn’t see wildlife here anymore. The wildlife would all be scared away. So hunting does decrease the ability for people to see wildlife. In places that aren’t hunted, people can see wildlife because wildlife doesn’t flee people as much. So that’s what’s important about state parks,” Bryan says.
Activists like Bryan, are working to raise awareness about state talks they say could lead to hunting, logging and agricultural activities on state lands. It’s something they say could discourage tourists from enjoying one of the state’s main draws—the environment. And Madeline Fox who is visiting Wakulla Springs from South Carolina says a change like that would be enough to make her reconsider a trip to the park.
“I don’t think state parks were established for hunting and grazing of animals. I think there are other places. There are hunting grounds specifically for hunting so let the animals be hunted there. Let the state parks be for people, families. State parks to me are more of an education and experience," Fox says.
Activists are concerned about a bill that’s currently moving through the legislature. David Cullen is a lobbyist for the Sierra Club of Florida.
“We are particularly concerned with the use of the language in the bill with respect to the state parks and the issue of adding the hunting, the grazing and the timbering. That’s an issue that my folks are very concerned with,” Cullen says.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials say there are no current plans to expand grazing or commercial timbering at state parks, but conservationists are worried a pair of bills that deal with state lands could have a big impact on state parks. Under the legislation any state-owned land that isn’t meeting its short term goals could be declared surplus land and become available for private purchase. Some are worried that could apply to state parks. And lawmakers like Rep.Kristen Jacobs (D-Coconut Creek) say that plan isn’t very forward thinking.
“Our conversations in this state and this legislature and since Amendment One was passed seemed to be at one point about not acquiring more land—that we can’t take care of what we already have so why are we going to acquire more? Now we seem in this bill, partially and where I have such concern, to be transitioning to jettisoning these lands because we don’t’ have the ability to take care of what we already have because we can’t take care of these lands, or what we’re calling surplussing,” Jacobs says.
And Jacobs says with millions of dollars earmarked by the voter approved Amendment One for environmental spending, that doesn’t make sense.
“But I see language here that talks about, for example, surplussing properties if in fact they’re not meeting their short term goals," Jacobs says. "And that seems to be, that’s where you kind of start to lose me. That seems to me an opportunity to get rid of land rather than to understand why are we not meeting the short term goals. Are the goals inappropriate? Are we starving them of the resources it takes to meet the short term goals?”
Meanwhile, the lawmakers behind the bills say they’re ready and willing to work with stakeholders as the measures move forward.