Senate amendment requires review of state parks for ag use or disposal

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Despite objections from environmentalists, a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday amended a state lands bill to require that state parks be reviewed to determine whether they could be used by “low impact agriculture” or whether the state still needs them.

SB 7086 is preferred by environmental groups compared to the House version of the bill, which would allow the Cabinet to give away parks and other state lands to adjacent landowners who agree to conserve it.

Both bills also would establish low impact agriculture as a management goal for state lands along with recreation and protection of wildlife species habitat. Low impact agriculture is defined as an activity that is consistent with the land management plan and does not impede recreation or contribute to water quality violations.

The House bill, HB 7135, requires that all state lands be reviewed for use by low impact agriculture or possible disposal but the Senate had excluded state parks. A Florida Department of Environmental Protection review of state lands for possible sale was suspended in 2014 because of an outcry from land supporters.

A bill amendment (882000) offered Tuesday by state Sen. Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, required that state parks be included in the review provided in the House bill. He pointed out that limited agricultural use already is allowed at state parks.

“This will restore the activities that are there — very good land management,” Hays told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, which he chairs.

But representatives of environmental groups said requiring the statewide review is unnecessary when many state parks are at beaches and other locations where agriculture is inappropriate.

“I would urge you to not support this amendment and leave the state parks out of this bill,” said Eric Draper of Audubon Florida. “You have done a good job of creating a much better version of this than the House bill.”

But the subcommittee put the amendment on the bill without objections and passed SB 7086 by a 6-0 vote.

The House bill, HB 7135, is on the House special order calendar for Wednesday.