Monday, April 27, 2015

The Shame of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection

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In a truly jaw dropping article from the Tampa Bay Times, it was reported that some Florida legislators, particularly Jon Steverson, the head of the Department of Environmental Protrection (!) want to allow logging and agriculture in the state parks to cover the expenses of running parks.

Here's the problem with this. 

State parks are not state forests or state agricultural holdings. Indeed, this issue of parks was settled long ago in the whole John Muir and Gifford Pinchot debacle over the Hetch Hetchy Dam.

Environmental historians will certainly understand the significance of the Hetch Hetchy controversy. However, if you are not familiar with it, let me remind you.

John Muir was very influential in setting up the U.S. National Park system. He, and many others, advocated for setting aside the land for the enjoyment of wilderness. The U.S. National Forests, in contrast, were designed to have limited uses for economic purposes such as forestry and some agricultural operations. 

But after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco was on a quest for water so they could have an abundant supply of water resources in case of future fires and to promote growth.

They looked to the Hetch Hetchy Valley in the Yosemite National Park. At the time, the U.S. National Park Service was relatively new and the policies regarding land use were still being worked out. However, it was up to an act of congress to allow a dam to be built. The debate raged on for years and pitted Muir against many who sought to develop national parklands.

In the end, Muir lost the battle and the dam was built.

However!

The battle was so fierce and the activism so strong that there hasn't been any serious attempt to develop national parks for economic purposes since then.

The state park movement emerged largely from the U.S. National Park movement. The states usually have state forests where multiple uses, including agriculture and forestry, are allowed. Since 1913, state and national parks are places that are valued for wilderness purposes. They are left alone to provide value to the greater good of the public. The national and state forests are places where limited economic activity can occur.

This move by Florida's leadership, especially Jon Steverson, fly in the face of over 100 years of environmental land management protocol. Parks are for the preservation of nature. Forests are for the protection of forests with some economic development in forestry and agriculture.

As far as I am concerned, those involved with this debacle no longer have the right to call themselves protectors of the environment. They have lost their John Muir card.

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