Gov. Rick Scott (Pic via flgov.com)

State environmental groups are urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto what they call a “rhinoceros of a bill” that would allow state conservation lands to be used as breeding grounds for exotic wildlife.

HB 1117, the “Conservation of Wildlife” bill, was passed during the 2012 Florida Legislative Session but still must be signed by Gov. Scott before it can be enacted. The bill would allow private zoos and aquariums to lease state conservation lands in order to construct and operate breeding facilities for exotic wildlife – including large hooved animals like zebras and rhinoceroses.

“Florida’s conservation lands were acquired with public dollars to protect native imperiled wildlife; this bill’s proposed use could supplant threatened and iconic Florida species with exotic,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s Director of Wildlife Conservation, in a statement released earlier today. “The opportunity for zoos to lease state lands, likely for less than a private land owner would negotiate, is an example of government competing with and undercutting the private sector.”

In a letter(.pdf) sent to Scott yesterday, Wraithmell says the bill is both ecologically and economically irresponsible. Financially, she writes, conservation land managers would be faced with additional responsibilities and forced “to monitor for invasive exotic plants (escaped from animal feed), monitor fence condition, manage more complicated prescribed fires, and protect yet another non- conservation asset in the event of wildfire.”

Wraithmell writes that the ecological impacts could also be detrimental. “These large exotics could cause the collapse of threatened gopher tortoise burrows, spread zoonotic diseases to adjacent private cattle herds or native wildlife, and their presence could alter native plant communities and inhibit the use of prescribed fire,” she writes.

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