Should logging be allowed in Myakka River State Park?

Myakka near Sarasota

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Changes to the Myakka River State Park management plan could mean palm trees there could be harvested for timber; but environmentalists are urging people who oppose the changes to turn out to a meeting this evening in Sarasota.

WMNF News interviewed Jono Miller, an activist supporting Myakka River State Park.

“Every state park has what’s called A Unit Management Plan and those plans are to be updated every 10-years. Now, Myakka’s was supposed to be updated in 2014, so they’re running a little behind. But, this document, The Unit Management Plan, will form the basis for what can and can’t or should or shouldn’t be done in Myakka Park, for the next 10-years.

“A number of us have been reviewing the document–it’s only been available for 2-weeks–and we’ve been trying to identify areas of concern. Some of them are very particular, like where should a new Interpretive Center go? Should we be building an Eco-Lodge and that sort of question. But, there are broader policy questions about how our state parks are to be used and those have sort of eclipsed some of the more technical questions.”

And my understanding is that one change will be that from ‘providing outdoor recreation and conservation,’ it will be changed to ‘outdoor recreation and other park-related uses.’ Is that being changed?

“Right. And we don’t understand what the implications are. We were very comfortable with the language in the 2004 plan and they are proposing to change it to “providing public recreation and park-related uses.” We don’t know what they mean by “park-related uses” and it makes us nervous because there’s been a push, from Tallahassee, to move towards a multiple-use concept. A lot of that multiple-use appears to be allowing natural resources, that belong to the people of the state of Florida, to leave the park in exchange for dollars.”

And that could be timber harvesting, fuel and stump harvesting, palm or palmetto frond harvesting. Is that true?

“Yes. All those activities of timbering, fuel and stump harvesting, and palm frond harvesting could all be potential uses if this plan is adopted, as it’s drafted.”

And what are your thoughts about those uses?

“Well, just as a matter of practical reality, most of the pine trees that should be removed for sound, ecological management, have already been removed and the stumps are widely scattered, it probably wouldn’t be very economically feasible to come in and take the stumps.

“The thing that really piqued our interest was this palm frond harvesting. You know, Sean, there are legitimate reasons why park managers may need to, occasionally, remove pine trees or stumps. The stumps can damage equipment, but, there is no ecological benefit from cutting off the green fronds of our saw palmettos or our cabbage palm trees.

“So, that pretty clearly signals a departure towards trying to sell parts of our state parks for profit. That’s what worries us.”

You also are concerned about the amount of invasive species that are allowed in the park?

“Right. You know Myakka Park is pretty special. We have a habitat called dry prairie. Most of this habitat was converted to pasture many years ago and there’s a significant amount of dry prairie in Myakka River State Park.

“Currently, there’s very little invasive plant problem there and this draft plan would allow the acreage to go up to 6% of the total amount of dry prairie and that could be over 800-acres of invasive plants and we can’t understand why, when we have a pretty good situation now, we would allow it to deteriorate to over 800-acres of invasive plant species.”

If people are interested in the Myakka River, how can they give input into this plan?

“If people want to get involved in this, there’s an open house meeting tonight, Thursday, March 2nd. It’s gonna take place at the Suncoast Community Church, which is on 8000 Hawkins Road. Hawkins Road is just a short road off of Highway 72. It’s about 2.5-miles east of the interstate highway. That meeting starts at 5pm and will go to 7pm. There will be a court reporter there to take testimony, if people can make it.”

And then, tomorrow [Friday] you’re involved in another type of meeting.

“That’s right. I currently chair the Myakka River Management Coordinating Council, which is a public/private body created by the Florida legislature, back in the 80s. I will be representing the Council’s views at a subsequent meeting, that will take place Friday morning at Myakka River State Park for a group of stakeholders. That meeting is also open to the public and they will allow public testimony, although I think the state people would prefer that most of the public input happen tonight.”

There’s a public meeting Thursday from 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at Suncoast Community Church, 8000 Hawkins Road in Sarasota.

On Friday, an advisory group of stakeholders is meeting at the park, including the Myakka River Management Coordinating Council.