- March 19, 2023
Florida officials are considering turning over some of its state-owned parks to cattle grazing, and one Lakewood Ranch organization is poised to take action.
Gardeners Out East, an East County garden club that formed in 2014, is taking on what it believes is a threat to the 28,875-acre Myakka River State Park as one of its causes.
“We have a purpose,” said Carolyn Lowry-Nation, club president. “We’re interested in the environment.”
The club’s primary concern is the potential effects of cattle waste on the water quality downstream because Myakka serves part of the watershed.
In February, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection released a draft request for proposals for 6,630 acres of Myakka River State Park to be leased to cattle farmers, who would in turn pay for the land’s upkeep. A contractor would be responsible for quarterly impact monitoring of water quality, erosion and grazing effects.
Both the Florida House of Representatives and Senate had bills on the floor in the spring that, if passed, would have allowed the state to identify areas of public lands that could support “low impact agriculture.” However, both bills died in the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.
“We need to make sure they’re not doing it just for the money. There’s going to be runoff into the river…They need to do impact studies.” — Gardeners Out East member Norma Kisidia
The FDEP now seeks to proceed with a key part of the legislation.
Lori Elliott, FDEP press secretary, wrote in an email to the East County Observer that the agency continually reviews opportunities to make parks and lands more self-sustaining.
“This will both benefit taxpayers and ensure natural resources are protected into the future by guaranteeing that the parks system will be able to fund operations to achieve its ultimate goals of ecosystem restoration, resource-based recreation and land management and conservation,” she wrote.
The state planned to hold a public meeting about the proposal in June. However, the meeting has been canceled and projected for later in the summer, although no date has been set.
Gardeners Out East members worry that profit, instead of preservation, could become the driving force in the park’s existence.
“If they can get away with cattle grazing, what’s next?” Lowry-Nation said. “They’ll take advantage if they can.”
Norma Kisida is a member of the Gardeners Out East and a seven-year member of the Friends of Myakka. Although she’s not completely opposed to the idea, she wants proof that the concept has been vetted.
“We need to make sure they’re not doing it just for the money,” Kisida said. “There’s going to be runoff into the river…They need to do impact studies.”
Both Kisida and Lowry-Nation said the parks need to conserve public land as well as provide public access.
“The recreation that people enjoy in state parks is important,” Lowry-Nation said.
Although the club is waiting for the public meeting for more information, it has already been spreading the word through their communities to raise awareness. The club plans to take action after the meeting, although some members have already called and sent letters into the state.
It wouldn’t be the first time the group has taken up a political cause—Lowry-Nation said members went door-to-door to educate their communities about voting yes on Amendment 1, the Florida Water and Conservation Initiative.
“We have to be forceful,” she said.