Big Cypress National Preserve Threatened by Damaging Off-Road Vehicle Use

After years of restoration, Park Service opens up sensitive lands and

Florida panther habitat to more off-road vehicle use - conservationists

take the agency to court







Dec 21, 2007, 00:00 ET from Defenders of Wildlife

    ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Dec. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A coalition of
 conservation groups today filed a lawsuit to protect Big Cypress National
 Preserve from damaging off-road vehicle use. The suit responds to a
 decision by the Park Service to open previously closed areas of the
 Preserve to swamp buggies and other off-road vehicles.
 
 
 
     The approximately 20 miles of newly established off-road vehicle routes
 are in the most sensitive habitats of the Bear Island Unit, an area in the
 northwest corner of Big Cypress frequented by the critically endangered
 Florida panther. The Florida panther population, isolated in southern
 Florida to 5 percent of its historic range, is estimated at fewer than 100.
 The Bear Island area is known for its prairies, marshes and cypress swamps,
 interspersed with hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods.
 
 
 
     "Big Cypress and the Florida panther deserve better protection," said
 Laurie Macdonald, Florida director for Defenders of Wildlife. "The National
 Park Service started protecting areas while still allowing some off-road
 vehicle use in 2000, now the agency is taking a wrong turn that will harm
 the prairies, cypress swamps, and critical panther habitat in the
 Preserve."
 
 
 
     In 2000, the Park Service completed an off-road vehicle management plan
 to reverse years of massive damage from widespread off-road vehicle use
 that left large ruts in the ground, disturbed water flow, ripped up trees
 and tall grasses, and impacted the habitat of the Florida panther and other
 wildlife. The agency decided to protect the prairies and marshes in Bear
 Island by designating specific off-road vehicle routes away from these
 areas. This year, in a turnaround, the Park Service opened these areas to
 off-road vehicle use without performing an environmental analysis and
 without performing studies of the impacts on the Florida Panther, as it was
 legally required to do.
 
 
 
     "Big Cypress has some of the last wild, undeveloped open spaces in
 southern Florida," said Matthew Schwartz, who is political chair of the
 Florida Sierra Club's Broward Group and frequently leads hikes in the
 preserve. "The National Park Service must change its decision to allow
 off-road vehicle use in such a sensitive area. The Park Service is supposed
 to protect Big Cypress, not encourage damage to it."
 
 
 
     "Florida's over-development is surging, and that is precisely why it's
 so important to have basic protections in place for wildlife in areas such
 as Big Cypress National Preserve," added Laura Bevan, regional director for
 The Humane Society of the United States. "The National Park Service should
 limit off-road vehicle use in Big Cypress so that it does not cause lasting
 damage to panthers and other imperiled wildlife."
 
 
 
     "These specific Bear Island off-road vehicle trails were closed for
 resource protection and by reopening them the Park Service has once again
 allowed significant resource damage to occur," said Brian Scherf of the
 Florida Biodiversity Project.
 
 
 
     "There are places off-road vehicles just don't belong. Off-road
 vehicles churn the Bear Island meadows into mud which require costly
 wetland restoration," said Sarah Peters of Wildlands CPR.
 
 
 
     According to the groups' lawsuit, by opening up these habitats to
 off-road vehicle use, the National Park Service is violating the 2000
 off-road vehicle plan, the National Park Service Organic Act, the
 Endangered Species Act, and other laws, regulations, and policies.
 
 
 
     Last year, the National Park Service adopted management policies that
 identified its paramount mission as the preservation and protection of park
 resources and values. The policies specifically state that "when there is a
 conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for
 enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant."
 
 
 
     "Big Cypress is a special place for many Americans because of its
 cypress trees, vast marshes, and wildlife, including the Florida panther,"
 said Kristen Brengel of The Wilderness Society. "The Park Service must
 place its highest priority on protecting the Preserve. It is what the
 American people expect and what the agency is required to do."
 
 
 
     "Moreover, we are concerned that the Park Service doesn't have the
 needed funding and staffing to adequately manage and enforce off-road
 vehicle policies that protect this sensitive wetland area for visitors to
 enjoy," said John Adornato, regional director of the National Parks
 Conservation Association.
 
 
 
     The conservation groups filing suit including Defenders of Wildlife,
 Sierra Club, The Humane Society of the United States, National Parks
 Conservation Association, The Florida Biodiversity Project, The Wilderness
 Society, and Wildlands CPR are represented in this litigation by Meyer
 Glitzenstein & Crystal.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

SOURCE Defenders of Wildlife
    ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Dec. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A coalition of
 conservation groups today filed a lawsuit to protect Big Cypress National
 Preserve from damaging off-road vehicle use. The suit responds to a
 decision by the Park Service to open previously closed areas of the
 Preserve to swamp buggies and other off-road vehicles.
 
 
 
     The approximately 20 miles of newly established off-road vehicle routes
 are in the most sensitive habitats of the Bear Island Unit, an area in the
 northwest corner of Big Cypress frequented by the critically endangered
 Florida panther. The Florida panther population, isolated in southern
 Florida to 5 percent of its historic range, is estimated at fewer than 100.
 The Bear Island area is known for its prairies, marshes and cypress swamps,
 interspersed with hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods.
 
 
 
     "Big Cypress and the Florida panther deserve better protection," said
 Laurie Macdonald, Florida director for Defenders of Wildlife. "The National
 Park Service started protecting areas while still allowing some off-road
 vehicle use in 2000, now the agency is taking a wrong turn that will harm
 the prairies, cypress swamps, and critical panther habitat in the
 Preserve."
 
 
 
     In 2000, the Park Service completed an off-road vehicle management plan
 to reverse years of massive damage from widespread off-road vehicle use
 that left large ruts in the ground, disturbed water flow, ripped up trees
 and tall grasses, and impacted the habitat of the Florida panther and other
 wildlife. The agency decided to protect the prairies and marshes in Bear
 Island by designating specific off-road vehicle routes away from these
 areas. This year, in a turnaround, the Park Service opened these areas to
 off-road vehicle use without performing an environmental analysis and
 without performing studies of the impacts on the Florida Panther, as it was
 legally required to do.
 
 
 
     "Big Cypress has some of the last wild, undeveloped open spaces in
 southern Florida," said Matthew Schwartz, who is political chair of the
 Florida Sierra Club's Broward Group and frequently leads hikes in the
 preserve. "The National Park Service must change its decision to allow
 off-road vehicle use in such a sensitive area. The Park Service is supposed
 to protect Big Cypress, not encourage damage to it."
 
 
 
     "Florida's over-development is surging, and that is precisely why it's
 so important to have basic protections in place for wildlife in areas such
 as Big Cypress National Preserve," added Laura Bevan, regional director for
 The Humane Society of the United States. "The National Park Service should
 limit off-road vehicle use in Big Cypress so that it does not cause lasting
 damage to panthers and other imperiled wildlife."
 
 
 
     "These specific Bear Island off-road vehicle trails were closed for
 resource protection and by reopening them the Park Service has once again
 allowed significant resource damage to occur," said Brian Scherf of the
 Florida Biodiversity Project.
 
 
 
     "There are places off-road vehicles just don't belong. Off-road
 vehicles churn the Bear Island meadows into mud which require costly
 wetland restoration," said Sarah Peters of Wildlands CPR.
 
 
 
     According to the groups' lawsuit, by opening up these habitats to
 off-road vehicle use, the National Park Service is violating the 2000
 off-road vehicle plan, the National Park Service Organic Act, the
 Endangered Species Act, and other laws, regulations, and policies.
 
 
 
     Last year, the National Park Service adopted management policies that
 identified its paramount mission as the preservation and protection of park
 resources and values. The policies specifically state that "when there is a
 conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for
 enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant."
 
 
 
     "Big Cypress is a special place for many Americans because of its
 cypress trees, vast marshes, and wildlife, including the Florida panther,"
 said Kristen Brengel of The Wilderness Society. "The Park Service must
 place its highest priority on protecting the Preserve. It is what the
 American people expect and what the agency is required to do."
 
 
 
     "Moreover, we are concerned that the Park Service doesn't have the
 needed funding and staffing to adequately manage and enforce off-road
 vehicle policies that protect this sensitive wetland area for visitors to
 enjoy," said John Adornato, regional director of the National Parks
 Conservation Association.
 
 
 
     The conservation groups filing suit including Defenders of Wildlife,
 Sierra Club, The Humane Society of the United States, National Parks
 Conservation Association, The Florida Biodiversity Project, The Wilderness
 Society, and Wildlands CPR are represented in this litigation by Meyer
 Glitzenstein & Crystal.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 SOURCE Defenders of Wildlife