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Last comments about last child

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There are some great comments on my blog below on the book, “Last Child in the Woods.” Rather than type underneath where I think some people may miss the comments, I will respond as a new blog entry.

Yes, I agree that nature does not want or need us. Nature has gotten along fine without humans for millions of years. And would probably do better without mankind.

Humans are among the only creatures on the earth that take and give nothing in return, and live in spite of nature, instead of along side it. We take the natural resources and only give poison in return.

But we do have a necessity to have contact with the natural world. Which is the purpose of “Last Child.”

The doctor’s review of the book was good, but he gets into other issues with his web page. (You can follow his link and browse it yourself.) Let me make some comments from the perspective of a park ranger, and manager of land that is park or preserve land. I am not a park manager, but all of us that work here are familiar with the issues, and I may be an assistant manager of a park very soon if I am selected for the position that I have interviewed for.

The reason we have these public parks or preserves is because of the support of two groups: the general public and the state & national legislatures. Without support from either, your parks will disappear and be sold off to become golf courses or houses. If the public doesn’t support the park being here, and even goes as far as asking for a change of the use of the land, I guarantee that the public will get their way. Just because we have parks today in an undeveloped, natural state, does not guarantee this for perpetuity.

Recently the St. Johns River Management Authority in North Florida sold off some land that had been set aside for preserve land. I remember when I worked for Orange County, how the county violated its own environmental impact development plan and approved a large housing development on the Econlockhatchee River . Next thing you know, a bunch of house are there. Too late! Nobody is going to go back, because those people will not be removed and have their houses uprooted. Once the damage is done, it is over. There is no taking those people away. (Unless they are Indians—but that is another story for another time.)

So preserve land needs both public support and government support.

What if the public is denied access to the park or preserve land? Certainly some areas deny access for environmental reasons, but the government can only go so far. If the public is denied access to public land, I guarantee that there will be no public support for the land. And when we have a budget crunch in the state like this year, cuts are going to be made where the public will cry the least. When there are budget cuts in the state, past history has shown that parks and museums are among the first to be cut.

And this is a controversial subject on limited access to the park. Ask anyone in Everglades City. Some people think the government has already gone too far, and driven out people from their homes and jobs when they didn't have too. Do people have a right to live on the land and make a living? Maybe in 1789, but many people think that has been taken away from them now in the 21st century. I can show you some people who the government forced them from thier homes and jobs. The government paid them for the land, but not that they really had a choice.

Back in 1993 because of state budget constraints in Florida , the state threatened to close down many of the state parks. I have seen this also in other states. Public outcry did prevent these parks from being closed. But there were a few minor or little-known parks that the state dropped from their property list, like Fort Gadsden in the panhandle.

Parks are expensive for the state to maintain. In my park alone last year, I am sure that the state spent well over a million dollars on prescribed burning and exotic plant removal. This is work that was essential to maintain the natural resources of the park. Because of human development around Naples , we have to recreate the processes that nature is no longer able to duplicate because of man’s encroachment on the natural areas. This habitat is fire dependent and needs to be burned, and exotics like Lygodium and Brazilian Pepper will not go away on their own and must be removed.

So just how far will the state allow the price to go for maintaining natural areas until they decide that they can’t afford it anymore? We haven’t yet reached that point, but this year seemed like it was pretty close.

All of the parks are suffering from budget cut-backs and do not have the money this year that they need for exotic removal and prescribed burning. Our budget this year only contains enough money to pay the water and electric bills, and maybe not enough for that. No money for facility repair, which we badly need. And all the parks I know are in the same situation. Maybe next they will start cutting jobs from our park, and other parks have already seen some positions cut.

We are down to five rangers, when at one time we had nine. Our staff has diminished enough that we barely have enough people to keep the park open and the restrooms clean. We just don’t have the manpower to do everything like we once did, like programs, ranger talks & walks. We do have volunteers who stay here to work during the winter, but we have even taxed them to their limit on the how much work they are willing to accomplish and not get paid for it. We can do what we can until the money and resources run out, but we could do a lot more if we had more people, money, and equipment.

Parks and preserves are the white elephants of the state. It is great to have them, but they take a lot of money and manpower to maintain. Land cannot be set aside and expect to take care of itself. There are modern land management practices that must be accomplished, and this costs money.

The importance of the Everglades and the estuaries in southwest Florida are essential to our survival of the water and food produced. Nature may not need us to survive, but without nature and environmentally preserved land, we won’t survive ourselves.
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