Big Cypress: Wilderness or ORVs?

Bicyorvrutsbear_island_copy There's a unique opportunity in Big Cypress National Preserve to protect a large swath of wilderness, protect habitat for the endangered panther, and allow in-holders to remain within the park's boundaries.
This opportunity arises as Big Cypress officials develop a management plan for 147,000 acres known as the "Addition" lands. Located in the preserve's northeastern quadrant, the Addition came to Big Cypress in 1996 as part of a land swap with the Collier family. At the time the Addition was added to Big Cypress, it was placed off-limits to ORV travel and hunting until a management plan could be developed.
Well, Big Cypress officials finally are working on that management plan. However, there are concerns that the preserve's administration is leaning towards an alternative that would allow managed ORV trails to be cross-stitched across those 147,000 acres.

Currently, the preserve is taking public comment on six preliminary alternatives, one of which is a "no action" alternative. Once a set of alternatives has been settled upon, Big Cypress officials will draft a general management plan for the Addition and then conduct an environmental impact statement on the various alternatives.
But the preserve's assistant superintendent already has indicated that the park would like to see a managed ORV trail system through the Addition, Matthew Schwartz, the political chairman of the Sierra Club of Broward County, told me today.
Bicyswampbuggy3_copy "That was before the public hearings even came out," he added. "So we fear they’re putting the wilderness (option) in there simply as a formality. They need to have it included.”
When following this story, it's important to remember that earlier this year preserve officials seemingly went out of their way to open up the Bear Island Unit of Big Cypress to ORV traffic despite studies that indicated ORVs disturb panthers and despite a request from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that preserve officials study possible impacts of ORVs on panthers in Bear Island before they lifted the closure.
It's also important to realize, as the accompanying pictures show, that the ORVs we're talking about are not all your typical, run-of-the-mill ATVs one thinks about when ORVs are mentioned.
"These things are homemade, they use a combination of parts," explains Mr. Schwartz. "It takes $25,000, $30,000 to put these things together."
Additionally, the ruts these behemoths create can swallow smaller ATVs, which forces those machines to expand trails by seeking untrammeled ground, he adds.
Now, the management alternative Mr. Schwartz prefers can be found in Preliminary Alternative F. It proposes to set aside 109,000 of the 147,000 acres in the Addition as designated wilderness with no motorized access; provide for new access points for foot traffic off Interstate 75 at mile markers 51 and 63; allow existing in-holders to remain, and; ban ORV use.
Preliminary Alternative A, the no action alternative, provides for no official wilderness designation and no motorized use.
Preliminary Alternative B would set aside 50,000 acres as wilderness and establish up to 139 miles of designated ORV trails.
Preliminary Alternative C would set aside 69,000 acres as wilderness and establish up to 131 miles of ORV trails.
Bicyswampbuggy5_copy Preliminary Alternative D would set aside 104,000 acres as wilderness and create up to 76 miles of ORV trails.
Preliminary Alternative E would set aside 109,000 acres as wilderness and create up to 37 miles of wilderness.
To see additional details of each preliminary alternative, visit this site.
At a time when development is erasing more and more of this country's natural landscape and when human pressures are turning national parks into isolated islands that threaten to endanger genetic diversity, it seems that Preliminary Alternative F is not only a reasonable alternative but the most reasonable alternative.
Public comment on the alternatives that will be included in the draft general management plan is being taken through June 15th. Study the preferred alternatives and file your comments before June 15th.


Kurt, my wife and I visited the Big Cypress VC in 2001 and sat through a showing of the preserve's intro film, which featured several minutes of swamp buggy footage. At the time, I was outraged but realized later that perhaps the Big Cypress managers were simply trying to tip off visitors to the damage caused by these ORVs without being overt about it. I still like to think that this was the case.
Please protect the natural landscape - no ruts from ORV's! I support Preliminary Alternative F.
The Additon lands are to be managed with the traditional cultural uses as is the original part of the BICY this is the law and was promised o those who went to Washington to create the Preserve. The historical cultual uses including buggies ,airboats, hunting, fishing, frogging and camping was supposed to be allowed. The total impact that the traditional uses have had over the past 70 years including the faulty studies by the universitry of Georgia claims of 21,000-31,0000miles of orvs trails would still only have impacted 1/2 of 1% of the preserve. Again these figures were not truthfull the actual milage is closer to about1200- 1800 miles of trails with one group coming up with about2400 miles. No ground truthed study can come close to the University of Georgias claims used by the NPS to continue its attempt to destroy the Gladesman Folk Culture. On the Addition lands the area does not meet the criteria neccessary to qualify for a wilderness designation. Even though the NPS locked out the traditional users for the past twenty years violating the law which required them to do a study and creat an advisory board of the stakeholders in order to establish a GNP within two years of the Bill. This was not done by the NPS to try and give the Addition the appearance of being untrammeled by man even though the area has been heavily used dating back to the Seminole Indian wars. But again since the first superintendent of the BICY the NPS has intentionally tried to change the intent of the Preserve and turn it into a destination Park again violating the spirit and intent of the authors of the enabling act. Suppport the Gladesman Folk Culture they are the people who started the movemnt to save the BICY from deveolpment and were promised by law the ability to continue their traditional culture.
I find it interesting that for all of the damage you claim ORV's cause, two of the three pictures in the article show buggies doing no damage to the ground. It is only the same picture with the wheel ruts filled with water,you continually see in newspaper articles. Historically you could enter Big Cypress with an ORV in many different points of access. They narrowed it down to just a few. Every ORV has to enter at the same point of access. I wonder what your yard would look like if all of your neighbors had to drive through it to get to their home. I think it is time to realize if they declare this area wilderness, then no one can enjoy it. Even The hikers are limited to trails, what kind of nature experience is walking down a sidewalk? For those of you who beleive that humans go there for the purpose of destroying nature, you are wrong. There may be an occasional disturbance because on human presence, the animals relocate, but I assure you it does not bother the animals. When the humans are not there,the animals return to the area. Let us all enjoy the woods and try and protect the environment. Our efforts should not be to exclude people from any area, our efforts should be towards opposing continued development of the Florida Everglades and water management.
Once again, instead of of all user groups working together to allow everyone to protect and enjoy their favorite recreation, we have a group pushing their agenda with mis-representation of the facts. The Bear Island Unit is part of the original preserve and the designated trails were provided for in the ORV Management Plan. The NPS established secondary trails, off the main trail, that travel a short distance, dead end at a specific point, and must return on the same trail. While the number of miles of trails were arbitrarily imposed by a former superintendent, the ORV community is attempting to work with the NPS to develop suitable trails that allow for ORV use and enjoyment. The big distinction many people to not grasp is the fact that the Big Cypress area was created by congress as a PRESERVE and not a national PARK. This area was created by sportsmen, conservationists and environ-mentalists working together to lobby for creation and protection of this area by congress from development. It was created as a preaserve to allow for hunting and ORV use. Congressional testimony stated the area was to be used and used hard. The alternative would have been to allow for further development around an established jetport used for practice jet landings and take offs. The new environmental arrivals are intent on disregarding the enabling legislation and pushing their personal beliefs. The addition lands should become part of the current Big Cypress National Preserve and managed as congress intended.
The above comments were posted by Wayne Jenkins, not Bruce Ward. I don't know how the error occurred.
Retired Physician, lover of outdoors,WITH endangered species concerns. Take away the sense of freedom and the ability to be familiar with sometimes risky activities(e.g: exposure to panthers and even rattlesnakes), as well as being comfortable with guns, from our citizens, and the YOUNG PEOPLE they take with them to the rugged outdoors, and eventually you take away our means of national defense. Be more tolerant.
Kurt,I read your article and must say I disagree with alot of your opinions.My family and I have been visiting Big Cypress Bear Island unit for many years and have not seen buggy ruts like your picture shows.We have traveled down every trail and for the most part they are kept clean of trash and people are obeying rules.I have seen deer,panther and many other animals in the same area over and over, they dont seem to mind me being there.I see no reason why the Addition Lands should not be reopened as part of Big Cypress National Preserve for traditional uses.For the people reading this article and posts please don't comment on the alternatives without knowing the real facts.
Richard, I appreciate the time you took to comment. There is always more than one side to an issue; often there are at least a good half-dozen. And there also are many sets of "facts." I can tell you, though, that the photo of the ruts came from a very reliable source and so I don't question its authenticity. Also, it's accurate to say that past studies have shown that panther use of the Bear Island Unit has gone down during hunting season and that the Park Service overlooked a request from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study possible impacts on panthers before the Bear Island Unit was reopened to ORVs. People interested in commenting on the Addition Lands proposal should definitely ask Park Service personnel about panther use in that area of the preserve and whether any studies have been done into how ORV use could impact the panthers. A larger question, I think, is how do we as a society value America's landscape? Do we want everything to be developed and overrun? Do we want any patches of land protected as wilderness, both to protect the land and all the species contained within for future generations to enjoy and benefit from? These are tough questions and will spur many different answers. But only by asking them will we come to a better understanding of the issues and possible solutions.
Having grown up in the Big Cypress even before it was a national preserve, I find it very frustrating that people that know nothing about the area or it's history submit comments for consideration and this information is used by the NPS planning departments. Swamp buggies have been used for over 50 years as necessary for travel in the Everglades. They have not destroyed the Everglades as some would try to make you believe, development of the glades is the real enemy!. This issue is what caused sportsmen to lobby for the Big Cypress creation at it's beginning. A rut may not seem pretty to some but is it a real damage issue? Modern enviros want everyone to believe that a buggy rut destroys the land. The truth is a rut aids many forms of wildlife with drinking water, gathering minnows, bugs and crawdads as a food supply, promotes green grass and aids in stopping wildfires. Buggy trails cover less than 1% of the Big Cypress land area. The addition lands should be managed as a unit of the original preserve with designated trails that wildlife, ORV users, hikers, bikers and people that get lost can rely on.
Protecting the Addition Lands, one of the largest tracts of rapidly vanishing landscape, is essential to ensuring the long-term health of the greater south Florida ecosystem. The National Parks Conservation Association feels very strongly that the Addition Lands must be managed in the most conservative way possible and supports Alternative F as the preliminary alternative for the General Management Plan. We remain opposed to re-introducing ORV use in a highly sensitive area. The re-introduction of ORV's will cause considerable deep rutting and scaring in the Addition. No ORV access plan, even the most conservative one, can protect the Addition Lands in the way the park is required to protect them. Experience shows us that if ORVs are allowed, accidents, misuse and abuse will occur. Just one large buggy stuck in the mud, or one small group of ORVers venturing off the designated trail, can damage the ecological integrity that the National Park Service is mandated to preserve.
When NPS opened the parks to snowmobiles 40 years ago, it was said they would have no impact. Now we know better, and the Yellowstone case shows it can be difficult to curtail an established motorized use. NPS should also be thinking about the impacts of growing ORV traffic at Big Cypress, because that's where the biggest impact comes in.