Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Legislature Mauling Florida's Environment - Pam McVety

Pam McVety, weaving public policy out of Tallahassee while I fought in the “trenches” of water resource management and public supply, crossed professional paths with me from time to time.  Over our decades in the business, I learned to greatly respect her measured and always intelligent insight as we, working with many, many others, put into place a water management system in Florida that has been internationally lauded.  I assure you she is not one to rant or say things without validity or sincerity.  Here she speaks out in a way I’ve never heard from her: forceful, heartfelt, a touch of humor, but with a disconcerting apprehension about Florida’s future that should concern us all.  -Sandspur

Pam McVety

By Permission of the author, Pam McVety.

(Also published in today’s Tampa Bay Times.  Here’s the LINK to the original article.)

February 29, 2012

Let's take a minute to assess how the Legislature would like to maul the environment.

So far this session bills have been proposed to: steal public lands and waters; drill for oil and gas on public lands; put advertising signs on greenways and trails; eliminate septic tank inspections; eliminate concurrency for schools and transportation for new development; support water quality rules that will allow continued nutrient degradation of our water; move control of water management funding to Tallahassee; and stop registering greenhouse gas emitters. Also, funding has been withheld for Florida Forever environmental land acquisition and Everglades restoration, two programs that have been the hallmark of Florida's environmental programs for decades.

Every company, business or landowner in the state of Florida, represented by high-paid lobbyists, who wants something that otherwise would not be legal or acceptable has come out from under a rock with a bill written to get what he wants at the expense of the public. It is insane.

Legislators are acting like the boys in Lord of the Flies. They need adult supervision. Hypocrisy is rampant. The Climate Protection Act doesn't protect us from our changing climate. It undoes more of what Gov. Charlie Crist got passed to make Florida a leader in responding to climate change. Environmental Resource Permitting makes it easier to get a permit and does not advance the protection of our natural resources as the name might imply.

The sad thing is that the public understands very little about what is happening. But what is going on is bad for Florida. It is bad for you, and over time the cost of doing business in this state will increase because of the decisions made by this Legislature.

Your waters will continue to deteriorate. Do you like beach closures Memorial Day weekend or on July Fourth because of high bacterial counts or slimy green algae? North Florida's waters will end up in South Florida. Hope you don't mind paying for water supply for Polk County. Your taxes will go up as you are asked to cover the cost and impacts of development that developers will no longer pay. Oil and gas wells will appear on public lands and the associated pollution will make it very unpleasant and unhealthy to visit these sites, not to mention that an oil well will never look or smell like a tree.

Advertisers will place sponsorship signs at trail heads and you will be reminded to eat your Twinkie. And, to heck with a zen experience in state parks. There will be no more public land acquisition, and paving will gradually stretch from coast to coast and north to south and with all the paving will come increasing electric bills. You think all this is an exaggeration? I wouldn't bet against these predictions.

Here is the real rub. Florida has some serious environmental problems that need to be fixed, but our Legislature is busy undoing the past 40 years of environmental safeguards that have served us well. This anti-environmental agenda is bad for Florida's economy. It is bad for jobs. It is bad for our children. In the future as things worsen in this state, as they will with these kinds of bills, businesses will not want to locate here. Where is Gov. Rick Scott in all this? Oh that's right: He hasn't read the bills yet.

“Pam McVety worked for the state of Florida for 30 years and retired from the Department of Environmental Protection in 2003. She has a master's degree in zoology from the University of South Florida. She is a member of the Florida Conservation Coalition, a biologist and native Floridian,” Tampa Bay Times.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Former SWFWMD Director Kuhl Weighs In On SB 1986 - Kill It!

I am a Florida native and I am an environmental engineer. I have worked much of my career at the Southwest Florida Water Management District and I am a member of the Florida Conservation Coalition. I have also been a county administrator in two Florida counties and the public works director in two Florida counties. I represented Hillsborough County in the major environmental permitting phases of both the desalination plant and the very large fresh water, public supply reservoir near Brandon. These experiences qualify me by some observers to be a “tree hugger” and a whole list of things my Mother would not want to hear! But I thought I had seen it all----until these last two sessions of the Florida Legislature.
What is remarkable to me is that one or two people in the Florida Senate seem to be dead set to destroy many of the few remaining assets our great State of Florida still enjoys. I am just not clear on the motives other than plain ego, greed and power.
Certainly many of these changes being “ram-rodded” through the legislature in the name of efficiency, jobs and that often used term “the benefits of privatization,” will just plain be terrible for Florida. These couple of Senators, Haridopolos and Alexander, along with our governor, are able, in their “leadership roles”, to herd most of the rest of the Senate (thank goodness for Dean, Fasano, Latvala and Dockery), into following a course headed for disaster. Check out what has occurred in education, privatization of state prisons, re-districting, funding for USF, “Sunshine” government (no public review of developing contracts, exemptions from the Sunshine Law), AND WATER AND GROWTH MANAGEMENT.
Not enough has been said lately about the dismemberment of water management in Florida and-----the complete abolishment of growth management in a state that grows and uses resources like few others during “good economic times”.  SB 7092 (now SB 1986), in Senator Alexander’s Budget and Finance Committee, carefully stowed away in committee to avoid debate and public scrutiny, will move water management funding and major project approval into the hands of the legislature. This removes the long standing, generally positive regional water management system in place for decades. Why? Because it gives those in power in the legislature complete authority over the money and projects currently in the hands of regionally governed water management districts. 
If we as responsible Florida citizens have any concerns about the direction the 2012 Florida Legislature is headed regarding our water resources, we had better do something-----quick! "Doing something" amounts to either e-mailing or calling Senators and Representatives and urging them to kill this bill.
And, in future elections, we all need to VOTE for the candidates that will take responsible action to manage this State's exceptional water and environmental resources!

Gary Kuhl

Monday, February 20, 2012

Senate moving to make water districts into state agencies - FCC call to action

Below is an alert distributed by the Florida Conservation Coalition.  If you have concerns about the legislature’s ongoing attempt to transform water management districts into state agencies to be controlled by Tallahassee instead of by board members from your own regional community, please read it.
Yes, I worked in water management for many years but this is not about me or any biases I might harbor. It’s about control of our property taxes and control of the water resources in our area.  If this bill passes, we – you and I – will lose that control which is today provided by the five regional water management districts around the state.
Please read this alert and consider copying and pasting the proposed email message that follows and sending it to Governor Scott, Speaker Cannon, Senate President Haridopolos, Representative Grimsley, Representative Trudi Williams. Their email addresses are also provided which can be copied and pasted into to the “to” line of your email.
SPB 7092, the legislative takeover of water management districts, passed the Senate Budget Committee last week. This is the reincarnated bill that essentially transfers control of the state’s five water management districts to Tallahassee and transforms them into state agencies.  It had been pulled from the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee earlier, because it likely would not have passed the substantive committee.  This is clearly a very high priority of the Senate Leadership

SPB 7092 has now been renumbered SB 1986 (a stand-alone budget conforming bill.)  So, it is now in its third incarnation of the session, making it next to impossible for a normal citizen to follow. It is on second reading in the Senate, can be amended on the Senate floor (not likely), but it is unlikely that the House will pass this bill as it is, and the Senate recognizes this. What this means is that the fate of regional water management will probably be decided in fairly smoky rooms during conference, within one week or so.  Therefore, one of the most important public policy questions to all Floridians is going to be decided behind closed doors, outside the democratic process.

Please write the Governor, Speaker of the House, the Senate President and the Chairman and Subcommittee Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, as well as your local House and Senate members.  It is very, very important to include your members at this stage.
Below is a message along with the email addresses of the Governor, the Speaker, the Senate President and the House Appropriations Chair and Subcommittee Chair, please simply add your own elected officials to the addressees and modify your message to suit your views.

Dear Governor Scott, Speaker Cannon, Senate President Haridopolos, Representative Grimsley, Representative Trudi Williams
We do not want legislators from Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando or Miami deciding the fate of our local water resources or how and where our local property tax dollars will be spent.  Further, we do not want legislators to decide how regulatory activity should be conducted, nor what projects are paramount to us.  Local and regional government is best for protecting the Water Resources of the State.
Please retain Regional Water Resource Management for Florida!

Currently in its third iteration, SB1986 - now a budget conforming bill - awaits full Senate action.  It is just as unacceptable as it was two bill numbers ago.  The water management districts are regional entities funded by local and regional property taxes, and the Governor has general supervisory authority over them.  This is the way it should be, just as it was before 2010. 
Please say no to SB1986

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

JD Alexander sticks it ... just like he did to the WMD’s

It is common practice in the legislature to do something dastardly behind the public’s back and cleverly conceal it beneath an opaque cloak of esoteric procedural maneuvering.  It’s become so common, in fact, that everyone knows, no matter what happens during the regular session, if the so-called “leadership” wants it, it’ll get done in the last hour, sometimes in the session’s last minutes, public interests be damned. 
Just before the clerk drops the hankie and says sine die signaling that the insanity of another session is mercifully over, language is surreptitiously added or deleted and the lap dogs of the legislature, elected to represent the people’s interest, do as they’re told by the “alpha,” and the damage, the political favor, or the secret payoff gets done.  They do so because, in reality, if they don’t kowtow to the mighty and kiss the boot, they know they will suffer devastating political retribution on a very personal level.  This is the way of unrestrained political muscle that the Tallahassee system has learned to nurture and sustain session after session.
Why do we, the people, allow this madness to so fully infect those we send to the hallowed halls of our representative democracy?  We send these people there to provide us with reasoned governance and wise structure for our heavily interrelated lives.  Why is it that when we see our system being manipulated to serve the personal interests of a few, or even one, and not the public’s, we find ourselves paralyzed to do anything about it?  It is only later that we will learn what took place and with great disdain and disbelief we will rant with great editorial indignation only to allow it again next year.
This is the ugly backside of greed and self aggrandizement at its absolute worst.  During this session and last, there has been no other human personification of gross political power gone amuck as JD Alexander; a guy who inherited both money and power from one of the most influential agricultural families in Florida’s history; a guy who’s only legacy will be that he became the epitome of what we should never again allow to be elected to political office at any level.
You’ve heard what he is trying to do to the University of South Florida.  He’s trying to choke them into submission for resisting his personal desire to sever USF’s brand new USF Polytechnic University completely from USF.  He disingenuously denies that cutting the USF funding by over $100,000,000, far more than any of the other state funded universities, will do long lasting damage to the school’s academic standing and its ability to deliver a quality education.
If you haven’t already read in disbelief what this guy is doing, see the Tampa Bay Times front page article and its main editorial about it published this morning (2.14.12).  Find the article HERE and the editorial HERE.
Some Quotes from the editorial”
“… his proposed state budget would starve to death the university, an unmistakable threat to anyone who dares to oppose his theft of the branch campus.”
“This is the sort of political interference that gives Florida's universities a bad name.”
“…the focus is on one powerful senator's obsession to create a new university and how far he will go to get his way.”
Daniel Ruth of the Times had much to say as well.  Here’s an excerpt:
It is axiomatic that not much happens in Tallahassee until toward the end of the legislative session when the final deals are cooked, the last minute conspiracies are hatched and, of course, the annual rite of back-stabbing begins in earnest.
This isn't democracy in action. It's a good old boy junta, taking names, settling scores and extracting revenge. Think of this as the reign of the Borgias, only without the sense of whimsy.
So it's a fair question: Why even bother with the charade of legislating? Why not dispense with filing bills, holding committee hearings and voting on stuff and put Senate Budget Committee Chairman JD Alexander in charge of everything, since it certainly appears the Big Daddy of Lake Wales is firmly in charge of establishing Florida as the Dogpatch of the nation?
Find Ruth's complete column published by the Tampa Bay Times, “Droppings from the lamest of lame ducks,” HERE.
So … because all the above is so much more sexy than water management, it’s a pretty good bet you don’t know that Alexander is doing the very same thing to the water management districts of this state, but you should.  And you should be no less outraged.
Today, the e-news publication, the Florida Current, reported that the Florida Conservation Coalition has come out in strong opposition to Alexander’s Proposed Committee Bill 7092.  It is common knowledge that Alexander would likely try to slip something like the earlier SB 1834 through the process and under the public radar, and sure enough that’s exactly what PCP 7092 will accomplish if approved.
This is the same maneuver he used against USF.
PCB 7092 if passed will take away the governor’s traditional budgetary oversight of the water management districts and leave him only to review and report findings to the legislature where the real control will be shifted.
So complete will its control be that many, lawyers included, are saying it patently violates the Florida constitutional prohibition against the state levying an ad valorem property tax for state purposes.
But for you and me, that’s not the issue.  Not really sexy enough.  The issue is that water management will become completely politicized at the state level.  This is where it will hit your backyard first. Want a water use permit in Citrus County that will impact Rainbow Springs, or Weeki Wachee Springs in Hernando, or as it is happening right now in the Suwannee River district, a permit in the St. John River District that will impact the springs in the Suwannee District?  Just call your local powerful committee chairman in Tallahassee, give some money to his PAC, and you’ve got your permit.
To be specific, the SJRWMD is issuing a permit to the Jacksonville Electric Authority for huge quantities being pumped from the groundwater basin of the Suwannee River and its related multitude of springs.  The SJRWMD says it will have a significant impact.  SJRWMD now run by political hacks appointed by the governor are whistling Dixie and saying it isn’t so.
The executive director of the Suwannee District at the direction of his governing board filed an objection to the permit on behalf of the resource they are by law compelled to protect.  He also filed it on behalf of folks who don’t want the water they need for their own purposes and their future being sucked off to Jacksonville to cool electric turbines. 
Here’s the point.  Now that Tallahassee is gaining control of districts’ budgets, the folks who continue to work there will have no choice but to do the political bidding of the Tallahassee powerful or be fired.
David Still the courageous executive director of the Suwannee district who filed the lawsuit, for example, was “let go” today (02.15.12).
This is the kind of political chicanery the state is in for.  JD Alexander will be gone from the legislature after this session.  But make no mistake.  His devil’s work will not go with him and Florida’s vast and unique natural resources are at grave risk.
But Wait! There's more. There is also the fraud perpetrated upon you, the property owners within all the counties of SWFWMD, who, because of his scheming will now be paying for a fully half of a $330,000,000 water supply project for Polk County.  But that’s a story I’ve already told you.  And, will tell again and again and again.
Still sitting quietly believing someone else will take care of the problem?  In the words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?”
Do what the Florida Conservation Coalition strongly suggests:
Chair, Senate Budget Committee, Senator JD Alexander (R),
Vice Chair: Senator Joe Negron (R)
Chair: Senate Budget Sub-Committee on General Government Appropriations, Senator Alan Hays (R)
and your local representative and senator.

Urge them to (1) remove the current revenue caps and restore maximum millage rates; (2) restore oversight of district budgets exclusively to the Governor’s Office; and (3) avoid legislative involvement in the "core missions", regulatory functions, administration outreach and management of the water management districtsIn other words, kill this bill, kill it dead, but then restore the districts to their earlier status when they worked for the resource and the locals who depend upon it.
Yesterday, I saw a where Paula Dockery posted this on her Facebook page :
It's official, I'm not really in the Florida Senate, I'm in the twilight zone.”

You can believe it, Paula.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bone Headed Idea Being Pushed by Tampa's Lowery Park Zoo

Rep. Shawn Harrison
Proposes Exotic Animals On State Environmentsl Lands
 In case you haven’t heard, there are two bills being pushed by Tampa’s Lowery Park Zoo that, at first blush, may sound reasonable because most of us are simply ignorant. 
Slender Horned Gazelle

For example, what could be wrong with using our state lands - that were purchased for environmental preservation and restoration - to provide new homeland for poor animals that are close to extinction in other parts of the world like Wildebeests, Asian Buffalo, the Wild African Ass, Hooked-Lipped Rhinoceros, Slender Horned Gazelle, Western Giant Eland, Bactrian Camel, Bairds Tapir, etc., etc.?  
African Wild Ass

This is what HB 1117 and SB 1456 would allow if Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa (who sponsored the bill in the House) and the Lowery Park Zoo get their way.
Turns out there are a lot of things wrong with this idea and scientists are rattled.
Given all the problems this state already has with invasions of all sorts of exotic plants and animals that threaten our own delicate ecosystems, the idea is plain dumb if we listen to those who know.
Hooked-Nose Rhinocerous
The fear is that a legislature that is not exactly known for doing the right thing about dumb issues, even when educated, will do something really dumb here.
So, in the interest of giving you something to sink your teeth into, here’s an exchange between the zoo’s public response person and well respected scientist, Mary Barnwell, a former employee of SWFWMD where she pioneered many land management concepts that are today considered the “how to” by land managers around the state.
As email goes, you need to start at the bottom and read up if you want to see the full exchange.  But if you only want to learn what such a proposal could bring, just read Mary’s final response immediate hereafter.  Then you might be motivated to email your friendly, always available, and interested-only-in-your-opinions local legislator and tell him or her – in case they’re vacillating - what a truly boneheaded idea this is.
2/9/2012; 7:29:42 P.M.

From: Mary Barnwell
Dear Ms. Nelson,

Thank you for responding so quickly.  My understanding of the bill and the intent is not flawed.  Many people that are not directly involved in management of public land believe that there are "marginal" conservation lands, such as improved or semi-improved pasture, that are not important for either Florida wildlife or natural vegetation. I can assure you - with less than 1/2 of the needed habitat in the state preserved, and many of the areas that are protected under direct siege from organizations such as your own and other special interests, every square inch of our public lands is needed for wildlife, plants and ecosystem services. 
Bactrian Camel
As a public land manager for 17 years, I can assure you that those semi-improved and improved pasture lands are utilized as primary habitat by Florida wildlife, including federal and state protected species.  In addition to being a land manager, I am also a restorationist who has restored hundreds of acres of improved pasture back to functional native habitats.  Species that occur in pasture include gopher tortoise and its commendams (Florida mouse, gopher frog).  We have now found sand skinks, a federally imperiled species, are found in pasture more than they are found in their intact habitat. 
In Lake County, FL - FLorida scrub jays and sand skinks occur in these altered areas more than in natural areas of scrub and sandhill.  Burrowing owls use pasture almost exclusively, and a suite of rapidly declining sparrows also use pasture.  So do Florida sandhill cranes, which seem to prefer to nest in wetlands embedded in pasture, and SE American kestrels, as long as snags are kept standing.  In fact, the ability for African wildlife to alter the strature of vegetation is a key concern. 
In some pastures, for example, on land I managed in Marion County, scrub oaks that resprouted from land formerly logged and cleared for pasture became habitat for one of the most robust scrub-jay populations in the state.  Snags are also a key concern, since shortage of open habitat and sufficient cavities are reasons for declines of many cavity nesting birds. 
Another point is that exotic wildlife may potentially reduce groundcover vegetation - even if it is exotic turf grasses - sufficiently to reduce fire intensities and fire spread in pasture habitat.  Fire is essential in Florida ecosystems (and in altered areas with native wildlife), and anything that potentially alters fire patterns is an issue. 
Next I would like to address exotic vegetation.  We have no idea how exotic vegetation will respond to being fed on or dispersed by exotic wildlife.  A read of Invasion Ecology may instill in you an understanding of the complex ecosystem interactions between soils, plants and animals.  Since millions of dollars are spent in Florida trying to control exotic vegetation, introducing species that may even have co-evolutionary histories with some exotic plants that occur on our preserves could cause severe repercussions.  
Another concern is the potential for exotic species to introduce exotic disease and parasites into the population.  Please spare me a lecture about quarantines and veterinarian care, since I do know that these measures are not always sufficient to prevent contagion and epidemics. 
Finally the mere presence of African wildlife in Florida may have additional, more indirect consequences for native species that we are as of yet unaware.  Land managers are already battling a huge number of invasive plants and animals and we do not need any more problems or diversions.  Instead of worrying about another set of species, and how to monitor the impacts and decipher what is going on at all community levels, land managers needs to focus their scarce resources on what they are hired to do - protect and manage Florida's few scraps of natural habitat remaining.

Also, even if pasture is not important for native species or holistic management of our conservation lands, these altered areas are where other uses that are mandated by legislation and vital to the people of Florida can occur.  For instance, recreation-based uses such as trailheads, camping sites and picnic facilities, and equestrians staging facilities are placed.  Will the use of this land, such as at WRB in Green Swamp West, mean the area cannot be utilized by the public for other uses?  I have to assume that is the case, since how safe could it be for hikers and horseback riders to enjoy their activity on the same land utilized by large ungulates. 

Finally, even on areas where cattle are grazed, this is not the best use of conservation lands.  In fact, cattle have been associated with colonization & spread of exotic vegetation, and also seem to be closely affiliated with imported red fire ants (another species that may respond favorably to African savannah animals).  Cows collapse tortoise burrows, destroy wetland vegetation, cause damage to river banks and wetland edges.  In fact, the removal of cattle on private mitigation banks has actually resulted in an elevation of "lift" and is acceptable for additional mitigation credit.  The only reason it is not given the same status on public lands is because of the financial gain being had by county sheriffs', water management district board members, politician’s families, etc. 
If Lowry Park Zoo is concerned about doing the right thing instead of just looking after how to promote their own agendas and research projects, perhaps you should open your eyes and see whose company you are in.

Florida's public conservation lands are under siege and I as well as many of my colleagues and peers will not tolerate this anymore.  If Lowry Park Zoo staff and its supporting financiers are truly concerned about the wildlife in Florida, they will immediately withdraw this poorly thought out bill.  I would be happy to meet with backers of this proposal to educate them about the short-comings and unsuitability of our public lands for the purposes being proposed.  Otherwise I and people of like mind are prepared to mobilize and to target the accreditation entity to petition for revocation of Lowry Park Zoo's accreditation. 
After the Lex Salisbury incident, do you think that this kind of publicity is wise?  I hope you will spare us all this battle and do the right thing - withdraw your support for this bill, and convince any other partnering zoos to do the same. 

Mary Barnwell

Subject: RE: Contact Us Form Submission
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 2012 15:34:15 -0500
To: Mary Barnwell
Ms. Barnwell,

Thank you for your recent correspondence to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.  Please know that we welcome all comments, and have shared yours with the most appropriate staff.  We appreciate the opportunity to correct any misunderstanding you may have from news accounts of HB 1117 and SB 1456. The phrase “opening public lands to herds of African wildlife” makes for a sensational headline, but is not the intention of this bill.  The intention is not to open Florida’s wilderness, which in the opinion of so many who work at accredited zoos, aquariums, and other conservation organizations, should indeed be preserved in perpetuity.  The intention is to allow for space in existing pasture -- tracts already being grazed by domesticated livestock not at risk of extinction -- for other ungulate species that are at risk of extinction. Accredited zoos and aquariums are committed to doing what we can to ensure species survival locally and internationally, and to promote conservation of the natural habitats on which we all depend.
Rachel F. Nelson
Office of Public Affairs
Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo

To: Lowery Park Zoo
Subject: Contact Us Form Submission
 Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 21:43:38

I am incredulous and dismayed at a pending request by Mr. Killmar, representing Lowry PArk Zoo, to the Florida legislature to allow exotic zoo animals to be released onto our precious public lands for research purposes.  Unless this request is immediately withdrawn, we will ensure that zoo visitors are made aware of the hypocrisy of your conservation agenda, and we will seek a boycott of the zoo.  We will also petition the American Zoological Accreditation entity to censure this action and review the zoo's accreditation.  Finally we will appeal to the City of Tampa for penalties.  
Again, we request immediate withdrawal of the legislation, and suspension of all future plans to use public conservation lands, intended to preserve FLORIDA'S DWINDLING WILDLIFE, for introduction/research on exotic species of any kind.  
Thank you.  
Mary Barnwell, M.S. Natural Resource Management

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Goodson Doesn't Understand His Own Bill; Opposition to HB 1103 Grows

The following is an open letter to state Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Rockledge, by Al Grubman, President of TOOFAR, Inc.      -Sandspur

TOO FAR against HB 1103
Al Grubman,
Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 12:00 am
When the TOO FAR board voted to oppose HB 1103 (Ordinary High Water Line or OHWL), I was proud to announce the results: “At our last meeting Thursday evening, the TOO FAR board of directors voted unanimously to stand against this legislation.” Al Grubman, president.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a response from you, the sponsor of the bill. I took your comments very seriously. I not only read every word of HB 1103 but I also read the staff analysis (both the Summary Analysis and the Full Analysis). I listened to every word of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee discussion on the subject. I set aside your conclusions about the opponents — “In all fairness, HB 1103 has been misunderstood…” and “Unfortunately there are certain groups resorting to scare tactics when it comes to this very clear and simple piece of legislation.” I question your accusations and prefer to hear and read statements directly.
It was difficult to ignore my prejudices, such as respect for established environmental groups and others, but I believe I was objective. Since I have no prior familiarity with you, I was objective.
I considered statements and positions from many sources including Florida Conservation Coalition, Audubon, Sierra, Florida Wildlife Federation, EARTHJUSTICE, Florida Airboat Association, United Waterfowlers of Florida, Florida Sportsman, 1000 Friends of Florida and Florida Cattlemen’s Association. Only the Cattlemen supported the bill and they appear to be a beneficiary.
Friends, blogs and associates, most with substantial experience and technical backgrounds, are unanimously against the bill. Numerous newspapers have spoken up against the bill and I have found none supporting the bill.
The bill, as I read it, clearly would move property lines downhill to the advantage of property owners and to the detriment of the public and the state of Florida. Knowing Florida topography, the estimated loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of public land seems to be a reasonable expectation.
Having researched the basis of the TOO FAR board decision and examined even more information, I continue to support and am proud of the board’s decision.
TOO FAR is an environmental and water activist organization of only about 1,000 members, but we stand with the many thousands of others who are opposing this legislation.
Subsequent statements reported to be by you and the subcommittee chairman indicate that the bill “…. it’s not going anywhere” and “is most likely dead.” We hope this is not a big disappointment for you and that maybe it is like getting an ugly monkey off your back.
Al Grubman is president of TOO FAR Inc.

This letter was also published in the Citrus County Chronicle this morning.  Here's the direct link.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Public Lands Headed for Degradation and Defacement

The Florida Conservation Coalition published a Legislative Alert this afternoon saying the legislature is considering proposals that would allow oil and gas drilling on any onshore state land without regard for its environmental value.  Could lead to advertisements and commercial messages where only natural Florida habitat is now preserved.
Estus Whitfield of the FCC, author of the alert, says, “Signs or displays for advertising and public relations may be placed at trailheads, trail intersections, directional or distance markers, interpretative exhibits and parking areas.  One has to ask – will this bill enhance my outdoor, nature experience?
Estus Whitfield was the primary environmental advisor for four governors of both parties: Graham, Martinez, Chiles, and Bush.
In Sandspur’s view, this is just more of CEO Scott’s uninformed disdain for what has been carefully and in some cases painfully established for Floridians and its visitors over the last 40 years, hopefully to protect and preserve a little bit of nature for our children and theirs.  These bills reflect no understanding of and no appreciation for natural Florida.  They are foolishness. 
While Scott didn’t introduce the legislation, he is probably behind the maneuver.  He has proposed such nonsense before through his henchman, Herschel Vinyard in the past.  Vinyard’s last attack on state parks was a proposal to construct a campground at Honeymoon Island that would accommodate huge campers and rolling motorhomes.  He has defended his decision to push for campgrounds at Honeymoon Island and 55 other state parks as a way to raise revenue for the state.

After a number of very vocal crowds showed up at public hearings to oppose the move at Honeymoon Island, however, Scott backed off and sent out a news release saying, “After seeing the public's reaction, it is clear that this is not the right time to expand camping at Honeymoon Island State Park. . . These natural treasures belong to all the tax-paying citizens of this state and it would be unfair to proceed with a plan that so many Floridians are so adamantly opposed to."
Apparently, the CEO Governor is beginning to "get" the significance of numbers, especially as re-election time gets closer.
Time for Florida’s Environmental Conscience to get vocal once again and show it is “adamantly opposed.”   Your emails and calls do have an impact.  Believe it.
Read FCC’s Alert in your browser HERE, or in full blow … and ACT;

Florida Conservation Coalition
Legislative Alert February 5, 2012,
by Estus Whitfield

HB 695 (SB 1158) and CS/HB 181 (SB 268)
If you believe that our public state lands –state parks, preserves, forests, wildlife management areas, and greenways and trails- should be protected against degradation and defacement, then you should take notice and pay careful attention to these bills.

CS/HB 695 (Ford and Smith) and it Senate companion SB 1185 (Evers) would allow the state to authorize exploration, development, and production of oil and gas on any onshore state land regardless of whether it is a park preserve, or forest, or environmentally valuable and sensitive.  This is presented as a potential state revenue producer.

CS/HB 695 is now in the Appropriations Committee and has another referral to the State Affairs Committee.  SB 1185 has referrals to the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, and Budget Committee. 

CS/HB 181 (Slosberg) and its Senate companion CS/CS/ SB 268 (Wise) would allow the DEP to enter concession agreements with a private business or a not-for-profit for naming rights of state greenway and trail facilities or property, or for commercial sponsorship to be displayed on the facilities or property.  Signs or displays for advertising and public relations may be placed at trailheads, trail intersections, directional or distance markers, interpretative exhibits and parking areas.  One has to ask – will this bill enhance my outdoor, nature experience?  Will it even bolster the sale of walking shoes? The bill, if it passes, will be known as the “John Anthony Wilson Bicycle Safety Act”.

CS/HB 181 is now in the Appropriations Committee and has a referral to the State Affairs Committee.  CS/CS/ SB 268 is ON THE AGENDA of the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee for Feb. 6, 3:00 P.M. (This is the last committee.)

Please contact the following senators: CS/CS/SB 268 Sponsor:
Senator Steven Wise (R), Committee Chair:
Senator Eleanor Sobel (D).                                 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Florida’s Environmental Conscience Stirring

An Ignominious End
 In the late sixties and early seventies songs often hinted of “something in the wind,”  “something happening” and “something coming” referring to growing discontent and rejection of the Vietnam War by the American public.  It was a time when the political “norm” was arrogantly moving more and more out of sync with the hearts and minds of America.  It was a time of growing distrust toward authority and officialdom gone awry. 

Eventually, those in power caved, excuses were found and a terrible national mistake was brought to an ignominious end.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Forces Find Compromise; HB 639 Moves Closer to Becoming Law

According to a “Friendly Alert” sent out today (02-01-12), Vicki Tschinkel of the Florida Conservation Coalition announced that a compromise had been reached on HB 639, the bill that would have removed reclaimed wastewater from the statutory definition of “waters in the state” and create a first step toward privatizing water in the State of Florida.  Here’s the alert: