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A Sportsman's View

Published Thursday, August 9, 2001

Government lands belong to sportsmen, too
I'm glad finally to see some opposing viewpoints on the recreational use of off-road vehicles in the Big Cypress Preserve, as well as public use and access to government-owned land, federal or state.

Environmentalists and other special-interest groups have gone to such extremes that they don't want anyone to use public-recreation areas for anything other than tourism and bicycle rides. The Everglades and Big Cypress are being destroyed by exotic vegetation, water diversion, development, pollution and farming.

Off-road vehicles aren't destroying anything. Neither are boats, hunting or fishing. Yet environmentalists have shaped public opinion to make people believe that these recreational activities are spoiling the Earth.

Waters are being closed to boats to protect manatees, though their numbers are growing. State forests are being gated and padlocked to keep vehicles out, even on good roads. The environmentalists are suing daily over something, as though the sportsmen are just trashing the wilderness. It is out of control. Sportsmen have traditionally been at the forefront of conservation and protection of the environment and our natural resources. Now we are perceived as the people responsible for all the destruction. The National Park Service closes the Big Cypress for low water, high water, animal-rest periods, bad weather, bad roads, surveys, impact studies, endangered species, etc. They even close the designated camping areas when they choose.

I have never heard of an off-road vehicle killing a panther but plenty of cars do. Will we close down the highways to prevent the panther from being hit by cars?

Our national and state wilderness areas are for our use and pleasure as much as they are to be preserved. The government owns these areas and is responsible for their maintenance. The government also is by the people and for the people -- that includes sportsmen too.

Let's not forget that sportsmen kept the Big Cypress and Everglades from being plowed under and developed into a jetport. Sportsmen saved the Big Cypress, and now they are being kicked out.

GARY KNOWLES
Miami
 

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Hey Ian,

Interesting article. I used to live in Florida and plan to return there again one day.

I agree that many environmental groups are targeting the wrong people in the cause of championing the environment. There was a contaminated, abandoned wood treating site in Escambia County, Florida many years ago. The site was contaminated with creosote and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which are listed hazardous substances under 40 C.F.R. Part 302. The chemicals had eventually worked their way into the underlying groundwater. Many residents in the surrounding neighborhood contracted cancer, but even if they could prove their cancer was caused by the exposure to the hazardous substances there was nothing they could do to seek redress since the company went bankrupt years ago. The EPA had to come in and spend tens of millions of dollars at taxpayer expense to clean up the contamination and relocate those residents who desired relocation. During this whole process, I don't remember much, if any, concern or effort from any environmental group on the matter. The site was situated within city limits, and I'm sure there were no affected wildlife. What irks me the most is that some of these so called environmental groups will spend millions of dollars to attack off-road use in public lands claiming wildlife protection, but will not champion the effort to protect human health and welfare.

Near Lake Charles, Louisiana, there are petrochemical plants discharging (pursuant to validly issued permits, mind you) into the Calcasieu Estuary system, which connects to the Calcasieu River. Granted, the products and processes of petrochemical plants are necessary to maintain the standard of living we're accustomed to. However, the sediment of the affected area has become so contaminated with mercury, PCBs and other listed hazardous substances that the local fishing industry went bankrupt after the State Health Department issued fishing advisories in the area. Families dependent on the fishing industry lost their livelihood. Again, not much concern appears to be coming from some of these environmental groups over what has happened in the Calcasieu Estuary and the effect it had on the local fishing industry.

But more on point with respect to outdoor recreational use, there was an interesting article in one of the hunting mags (don't remember if it was Field & Stream or some other publication) that mentioned that about half of the wildlife management area lands had been closed in North Florida. However, these lands are owned by a private lumber company who had leased them to the State. When the lease expired, they decided to close them to any and all public access and recreational use, despite the State begging them not to. I don't know why they decided not to renew the lease. It could be that they're getting ready to harvest trees. Who knows. I'm all for private property rights and wish I owned some property myself, but in this case, had the State bought the land from the company it would still be open today.

Just my humble thoughts on the matter. Take care,
 
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