Let Rattlesnakes Be Or Pay The Price

Just days after a column appeared in The Ledger discussing the decline of the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake because of human persecution, a news report confirms how misguided human persecution can be.

According to Polk County Fire Rescue, some unnamed man shot a rattlesnake—there were no details on why he thought it was necessary to shoot it or whether he put any thought to it at all—and then the wounded snake took its revenge.

Apparently the guy tried to pick it up by hand and was bitten by the wounded, but not dead snake. The ma n was airlifted to a hospital for treatment.

No other details were available. The press release said the snake was more than 5 feet long, but there was no independent verification.

Recently local authorities claimed to have captured a 7-foot Banded Water Snake that wandered into a Lake Wales woman’s home, but the photo provided to the press showed a snake that was much shorter.

This species typically grows to 4 feet, which is about what it looked like in the photo.

There seems to be a lot reptile size inflation going on around here ever since that trick photograph of the alligator at Circle B.

Getting back to the rattlesnake issue.

Rattlesnakes, like alligators, are content to leave us alone if we leave them alone.

They have other things on their little minds.

If you see a rattlesnake or any other venomous reptile, give it some room and let it pass.

If you must shoot it, use a camera.

Lake County to consider summer fertilizer restrictions

Lake County commissioners are scheduled later this month to consider an ordinance that would limit the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous near water bodies.

If commissioners pass the ordinance, it will joining a growing list of Florida counties, mostly in coastal areas, that have approved some kinds of restrictions to reduce lake, river and bay pollution caused by fertilizer runoff from lawns.

Neither Polk County nor its cities has passed such an ordinance despite the large number of lakes that could benefit.

The ordinances have produced some pushback in the Florida Legislature because of lobbying by fertilizer and commercial landscaping interests to ban local restrictions.

Although there are enforcement provisions in these ordinances, their main value is in educating homeowners to adopt more environmentally-friendly practices to avoid further damaging water bodies near their homes.

Enforcement remains an issue, though.

Although Lakeland and other cities have ordinances that prohibit putting grass and other yard debris in the street where it will end up in storm drains, the leaf and grass blowing crews that homeowners and business owners hire for lawn maintenance widely ignore the restriction.

The result is tidy yards and sidewalks and lousy lakes.

Remember, there’s no such place as away. Everything ends up somewhere.

FWC To Resume Bear Hunting Discussion

Bear-hunting will be on the agenda when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets April 19 and 20 in Tallahassee.

Last year the panel voted unanimously to cancel a second-straight bear hunting season to allow staff to come up with more information justifying it.

The issue has been divisive and it’s unclear from the agenda materials available so far what the staff’s recommendation will be.

The short memo attached to the agenda says nothing more than the staff has studied the matter and will be talking about it at the meeting.

That cryptic memo has led to the circulation of an email from the Humane Society, an anti-hunting group, warning about the potential for a decision to resume hunting.

FWC biologists had recommended a limited hunting season in 2015, which ended early when the quota was reached more quickly than expected., because years of protection has allowed Florida black bear populations to recover to the point that limited hunting would be sustainable.

Biologists outside the agency responded that the population increase didn’t automatically justify a resumption of hunting. They countered that the decision to allow bear hunting was based less on any management need and instead on political pressure from the hunting community, many of whose members were eager to bag their first bear in Florida.


BS Ranch And Farm Case Another Example Why DEP Unfit To Replace EPA

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection bent over backwards to come up with a way to issue an after-the-fact permit to allow a soil-manufacturing operation in an industrial park near residential areas in east Lakeland to continue to operate.

When there were odor problems, DEP’s response was to verify it was coming from the site, but not to force it to shut down or relocate. The position didn’t change, The Ledger reported Saturday, even after it was revealed that the earlier announced cessation of new loads of sludge from Orange County sewer plants until the odor problems had abated had not happened as claimed. The company’s consultant also argued with DEP staff over the definition of odors.

Look up scofflaw in the dictionary and you might see the company’s picture. Look up accomplice and you might see DEP’s regional enforcement staff.

DEP once had a stronger public protection role at this same industrial park. There was a wood mulching operation that was allow debris to drift into a nearby residential area. DEP officials made the company move.

The current DEP under Gov. Rick Scott takes the position that it will rarely crack down on permit violations because that would be unfriendly to business interests, even when the violations are at odds with the public interest.

This comes against the backdrop of some misguided state legislators and others in this state calling for a reduced role for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by ceding environmental oversight to the states.

As the BS case illustrates, Florida’s DEP exercises little real oversight where it counts.

Meanwhile, the Polk County Commission in general and Commissioner George Lindsey in particular deserve commendation for taking some leadership on this issue and trying to undo what they now recognize was a bad zoning decision. They relied on the misrepresentations of the company and the county planning staff on this operation’s true impact.

I’d also like to suggest that in the absence of much state environmental regulatory oversight that Polk consider a way to protect itself from future problems of this nature.

In addition to confining these operations to industrial properties, they might also consider other location criteria in the land development code that would not allow them to be sited anywhere near residential land uses.


Sierra to participate in Colt Creek State Park event Sunday

Ancient Islands Sierra Club will be participating in Sunday’s annual Get To Know Colt Creek State Park event from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The 5,000-acre park is located in the Green Swamp at 16000 State Road 471 just south of the Withlacoochee River.

Barbecue lunch will be provided by the Friends of Colt Creek State Park. Live music will be provided by Al & Rich of the Sofa Kings.

If you haven’t visited the park before Sunday’s even will be great chance to learn about its variety of habitats either via hourly tram rides or a ranger-led hike.

Sierra will have a table to educate people about owls and anyone who stops by will have a chance to learn what’s inside owl pellets.

Other scheduled activities include educational exhibits on recycling, fire management, butterflies and more.

In addition, there will opportunities for fishing and kayaking available.

Admission to the park is $4 per vehicle.

The park is open every day from 8 a.m. to sunset.

Polk Commission Needs To Support Amendment 1

There is a slow but growing movement among Florida’s county commissions to add another voice to those urging the Florida Legislature to do what the voters ordered in 2014—fund conservation land purchases.

County commissioners in Alachua, Orange and Osceola counties have already passed resolutions.

Commissioners in Citrus, Lake, Seminole and Volusia counties are considering action at the request of local Audubon chapters.

This would be relevant and not just trendy because some of the highest priority conservation properties on the state’s approved purchase list lie in Polk County.

When the County Commission decided in 2015 to end the .2 mill environmental lands tax, the hope expressed by County Manager Jim Freeman was that Polk County could find some matching funds for any parcels that Amendment 1 might fund.

But county officials cannot step up if state officials refuse to.

Since 2014 the Florida Legislature has authorized very little of the voter-approved funding for conservation land purchasers, diverting the money instead to fund day-to-day agency expenses and local infrastructure projects that have little to do with land conservation.


Legislature’s Troubling Growth Bills

There they go again.

This year’s legislative session is nearly half over and some troublesome bills affecting local growth planning are still out there.

One pair (SB 940 & HB 1309) would require local officials to add a private property rights element to their growth plans and supporting provisions to their development codes with an eye toward making every decision subservient to the interests of economic development.

There are two problems with this legislation. One is that it’s unnecessary. The Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution already protects private property rights. There is also a state law, the Bert Harris Act, that addresses this issue.

The other is that rather merely protecting private property rights, this legislation seems to attempt to stake out additional claims about what qualifies as an infringement on private property rights.

According to 1000 Friends of Florida, the main organization tracking growth bills, this legislation hasn’t gotten very far yet, but there’s still plenty of time left, so it needs to be watched.

Another pair of bills (SB 996 and HB 997) has the potential of stifling citizen challenges of zoning and environmental permits, even if the challenges are filed in good faith, by allowing the losers to be assessed up to $50,000 of the winner’s legal costs . (Frivolous challenges are already subject to sanctions).

As I understand it, both sides typically pay their own costs under current law.

The House version, filed by Rep. Sam Killebrew of Polk County and titled the Florida Equal Access To Justice Act, would single out the coverage to protect small businesses to benefit from the legislation.

I guess some people are more equal than others.

This one hasn’t gone to committee hearings yet, but the session is only half over.