Florida State Parks in peril

Jim A Stevenson gave a rousing speech at the Save Paynes Prairie and our State Parks event on Jan. 23. He is a 50-year veteran of working with the multi award winning Florida State Parks system, which provides not only habitat for wildlife, but also a connection to Florida history. As a public commons that have provided respite and adventure to over 30 million people, they are over 80 percent self-supporting, with the 20 million Florida taxpayers only having to kick in about a dollar each.

In spite of all this we have a governor taking a hatchet to both staffing and funding.  Employees fear speaking out, and sudden terminations of long time employees have been happening. Morale is really low as the Department of Environmental Protection management is seriously distrusted, a survey showing less than 23% support by employees.  Volunteers have had to try and fill the void.  Citizen support organizations have been muzzled from speaking out.

Stevenson laid out the threats to Florida’s natural environment and state parks: the introduction of hunting, cattle grazing, and logging — all of this disruption and destruction as a means of generating money for private industry.

Following is an excerpt from Jim’s speech on Jan. 23. The full version can be found on our website at www.gainesvilleiguana.org.

Read Jim’s oped, “Parks Are Not for Profit,” in the Gainesville Sun from June 15, 2015, for more perspective: http://www.gainesville.com/article/2015150619842.

What must we do?

Columnist Mark Shields says that “a militant minority always wins.” Grassroots organizations have been formed since April for Myakka River State Park and Paynes Prairie State Preserve since they were the first targets of DEP’s threats. Audubon Chapters, Native Plant Societies, Sierra Clubs, Garden Clubs, the Florida Wildflower Foundation, the Florida Trail Association, the League of Women Voters, and other organizations have joined the battle to save our parks.

The press has been remarkably supportive in “opposition” to DEP’s mismanagement of our parks having published Editorials, Op-eds, and Letters to the Editor in major newspapers throughout the state including: the Gainesville Sun, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Jacksonville Times Union. Over 129 such articles have been noted since April—some by renowned columnists Carl Hiaasen, Paula Dockery and Ron Cunningham.

In Conclusion

The most significant indictment of DEP’s proposed folly is a letter of opposition from three former state park directors, having a combined tenure of 38 years (one of which was also the director of the National Park Service for six years) and a similar letter of opposition from 42 retired state park managers. The secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection is dismantling and intends to degrade the state parks, but they are not his parks. They belong to the people of Florida. Secretaries come and go but our state parks are forever.

To paraphrase writer Al Burt: “All of Florida’s common folk need to stand a little taller if Florida’s state parks are to survive. Good citizens must act. The good will of the people will become political action.”

Thank you for standing for Florida’s state parks. D

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