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State Park Commercialization Plan Contributor Appointed DEP Secretary

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Florida state parks were identified by Jon Steverson, then-interim secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Park Service in a draft strategic plan, as test cases for allowing commercial businesses to graze cattle, timber and hunt in the parks.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed, and the Florida Cabinet approved, Steverson Secretary of DEP during a cabinet meeting today.

The proposal is not intended to commercialize and privatize parks, Steverson told Cabinet members. But, the state might not be able to maintain all of the publicly owned land without the capacity to generate more revenue.

Grassroots groups are forming across the state to oppose this possible plan to commercialize the state parks. Protect Paynes Prairie was founded just weeks after Florida Parks in Peril was established to protect Myakka River State Park.

The DEP looks for opportunities to make the state’s parks and lands self-sustaining to achieve the ultimate goals of ecosystem restoration, resource-based recreation and land management and conservation said Jason Mahon, DEP spokesman, in an email.

But Mark Smith, Protect Paynes Prairie steering committee head, said the grassroots groups’ concern is that the plan goes beyond resource management, allowing for commercialization and even privatization of state parks.

Jim Stevenson, a retired DEP senior biologist, procured the plan on June 18th. He said the parks’ land and wild life would be in jeopardy if Steverson were to execute it.

“If they can make a dollar off of it, they’re going to do it,” he said. “The parks have not been treated like this for their entire existence. For 80 years we have not had this kind of what’s called multiple use, and it’s just since Gov. Scott has come on board that they started moving in that direction.”

Randy Lance, owner of Little River Organics in Wellborn, Fla., grazes cattle on his farm. He said he approves of the plan because it is beneficial for the environment.

“If you put cattle on (land), the trees grow better, the grass grows better, the soil captures carbon,” he said. “That’s the ideal.”

But Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam expressed concern against the plan during today’s meeting. Smith said this was a success for the grassroots groups.

“I would say our message has been heard, not only for me but for all the people who are represented by their involvement in signing petitions, in making calls to the cabinet members and to state law makers,” he said. “For everyone who has participated in this.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to the reporting.

About Maria Valencia

Maria is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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