There is nothing wrong with the state selling land not needed for conservation purposes, as lawmakers directed in this year’s budget. After all, much of the money generated — up to $50 million — will be used to fund Florida’s model program to buy environmentally important tracts.
But it’s critical that the state Department of Environmental Protection evaluate parcels carefully — and not haphazardly put unique resources on the block.
It’s disturbing that DEP’s initial listing of surplus land includes important wilderness sites, including acreage in the Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park.
DEP, to its credit, has revised the list, removing more than 1,000 acres. But that still leaves vulnerable about 4,200 acres across the state, according to the agency’s count. And still on the list, according to DEP’s tally, is 5.4 acres at the Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park.
The Broussard acreage never should have been considered for sale. As attorney Clay Henderson, a former executive director of Florida Audubon, wrote to DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard, the land is “inhabited by plants and animals found nowhere else.”
And the story of the sanctuary’s creation is a testimony to public-private partnership. The park was established thanks to Dr. William Broussard and his wife, Margaret, who channeled their grief over their son’s death from cancer into a campaign to preserve the wilderness area he cherished in Polk County. Allen Broussard was a wildlife biologist who died shortly after his 29th birthday.
The wilderness could easily have been lost since lots in the swampy area had been sold sight unseen to hundreds of Northerners during the 1950s. Fortunately, the land had never been developed, but trying to preserve it was a legal challenge that no public or private group would take on until the Broussards.
The couple relentlessly tracked down the owners and offered to buy the land with their own money. The state collaborated on forming a state park. But in what looks to be a rushed effort to unload lands, the state appears ready to sell some of the land and undermine a remarkable legacy.
Conservationist say other parcels are also questionable.
The state often ends up with parcels of little environmental value when buying land because landowners insist adjacent parcels be part of the deal. There is nothing wrong with unloading them at a fair price, but this shouldn’t be a fire sale.
State officials need to slow down and better scrutinize the process and the assets they’re considering selling.