After searching for ways to close a state budget gap, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection came up with an idea that’s raising eyebrows: close 53 state parks.
The department says that the closures could save $6.5 million, in a state where the budget shortfall is likely around $3.62 billion. But many, including members of the House and environmentalists, say the move could be a bad one.
In a post earlier today, environmental blogger Bruce Ritchie reported on reservations from House members wary to make such a drastic move:
During a meeting Wednesday of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, called the possible park closures “heart-breaking” and said taking such action could affect Florida’s tourism. Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, questioned whether the cost to local economies would be more than the $6.5 million in savings to the state.
Today, Audubon of Florida released a statement arguing that the state would easily lose more than $6.5 million in lost revenue. And Jennifer Fitzwater, the department’s deputy secretary for policy and planning, told a legislative committee the same thing earlier this week: “I think it is a fair characterization to say the impact [lost to local communities] would far exceed the savings.”
“Florida’s special places are vital to both our ecology and our economy,” said Julie Wraithmell, director of wildlife conservation for Audubon of Florida, in the release. “Our state parks and other public lands are the backbone of our tourist economy. Sixty five percent of Florida tourists report that they enjoy nature-based activities when they visit.”