Representatives from South Florida’s Monroe County are going to make a pitch this week for undeveloped private land in the Florida Keys to be bought with federal and state money, and then turned into a national park. While I’m all for more protection of beach and ocean areas in the Keys, I think this is a terrible idea for several reasons.
The group in favor of protecting the private land from development plans to ask for $1.2 billion from both the U.S. government and Florida State government to cover the cost of buying the property from its landowners. About 7,372 acres of land that contains sensitive vegetation would be bought and would comprise the national park— not the entirety of the Florida Keys. A lawyer who represents some of the landowners has already said that it’s “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
So here’s why I think the proposal to make these areas a national park is a very bad idea:
- It will anger landowners who don’t like the aggressive attempt to buy their property, creating animosity toward a potential national park from the beginning. Some of these landowners also might be content to help protect the land and remain as landowners.
- As someone who has worked for the National Park Service as a ranger in nearby Everglades National Park, and visited the also nearby Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks, the National Park Service could really use more money to help protect those areas a little more. Stretching taxpayer dollars to pay for an additional national park in South Florida would be too much. For instance, the Everglades really need to rebuild the Flamingo Visitor Area after it was devastated by recent hurricanes, and have made a dynamite proposal to build a solar-powered eco-lodge. It still needs funding.
- The fragmented nature of the land parcels in discussion would also make it challenging for park staff to patrol and enforce park regulations and protections given the large volume of visitor traffic to the Keys and also the large number of businesses whose practices could potentially be at odds with conservation goals.
- It sets a dangerous precedent for local communities who have failed from the start to conserve their own land areas to ask the federal government for a bailout in the form of a national park. Why can’t they impose the strict regulations they desire themselves?
As I said from the beginning, it’s great that a group of citizens living in the Florida Keys would like to provide greater environmental protection to certain areas– I just don’t think asking for a national park is the right way to do it. The National Park Service at this moment in the time is drastically underfunded and has a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. Let’s improve our current national parks before we make new ones.