Gov. Scott’s bottom-line focus worries environmentalists over state parks plan

Florida state parks could be home to more hunting, grazing and timbering under Gov. Rick Scott

Florida state parks could be home to more hunting, grazing and timbering under Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott’s bottom-line focus on state government is stirring environmentalists across Florida wary of the upcoming legislative session and another wave of efforts to make state parks help pay for themselves.

Scott’s Department of Environmental Protection chief, Jon Steverson, sparked a firestorm of opposition earlier this year by discussing park management plans that could include expanding hunting, grazing and logging activities at some of Florida’s 174 state parks.

Thousands of petition signatures emerged from those against the idea, along with a call for Steverson’s ouster.

But Steverson said he stands by the approach, and he has a supporter in state Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, who sponsored legislation in last spring’s session that could have opened parks and other conservation lands to “low-impact agriculture.”

“Do I think it would be good if we could make some more money off parks, and make them a little more self-sustaining? Sure,” Caldwell said.

“But we’re not talking about doing this at a park with a lake and picnic tables. Some parks are huge and this kind of activity may be just good land management,” he said.

Caldwell, who said he will bring back the legislation for the session opening Jan. 12, said the opposition has been “hyperbolic.”

“The narrative here really has been hijacked. There’s a political element in all this,” he said.

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