The Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which approves all management plans and amendments to these plans for state lands entrusted to the Division of Public Lands, on December 13, 2013, approved the Blackwater River State Forest (BRSF) 10 year management plan with one proviso. They qualified the paragraph which had to do with military expansion in that forest to require any military exercises, such as that mentioned in the GRASI proposal, would require an amendment to the plan and require ARC approval before the exercises can commence. I will get the exact wording next week.
There was a very good show of people representing 1) North Florida paddlers (about 14 people with 4 who testified) and a legislative staff aide, 2) The Native Plant Society, 3) Frances Weston Audubon Society (8 with 3 who testified) and State Audubon Conservation Direction Julie Wraithmell, 4) Several other speakers opposed or questioning the military exercises. The council delayed hearing the BRSF plan till 11 am to enable people from Pensacola to leave for Tallahassee at a reasonable time, particularly since many also attended the “town meeting” the night before in Milton, jointly sponsored by Eglin AFB and Florida Forestry.
The testimony of John Veasey, an Air Force veteran of 24 years and a frequent user of BWSF resulted in a question to the Director of State Forests the next day by Peter Frederick, council member and U of Florida Professor, asking why there were military in the state forest when he was under the impression that this had not been authorized. Jim Karels, Director of State Forests, replied that under a forestry use permit when Eglin AFB request use for several days, they were usually issued a permit.
At the Apalachicola “town hall” meeting that night John Brown, who has been the main point man for forestry, was asked whether the Tate’s Hell Forestry Plan which does not currently have the military inclusion clause in it would have to be amended before military training is allowed. He answered in the affirmative. When asked whether there would be adequate notification of a hearing and adequate time for people to read the amendment, he equivocated.
Forestry claims that the military are users, too, and is issuing permits under an ordinary user request. Most of the people at both the Milton and the Apalachicola town meetings held on December 11 and 12, 2013, would question that interpretation of “resource-based recreation” user.