My post the other week on the debate ongoing in Florida over how the so-called "Addition Lands" to Big Cypress Preserve should be managed -- with an emphasis on more wilderness, or more ORV traffic? -- has drawn some thoughtful comments. And that's good to see. Only by understanding the various viewpoints can a sound decision be made.
However, Bruce's contention that there's only one tired and weary picture that's trotted out whenever someone wants a shot of ORV ruts in Big Cypress prompted me to spend a few minutes searching the web for other images. I quickly found the three others that accompany this post. As they clearly depict, ORV traffic in Big Cypress is widespread, plentiful, and rakes at the landscape.
But Bruce raises another question, too, one that spurs the philosophical question of whether an environment is wasted if it's preserved as wilderness? It's an apt question, particularly when it's pitched around the context of the national park system.
After all, units of the national park system are to be enjoyed, they're to offer a recreational or educational component. Which is as it should be. But many of these landscapes also are waning vestiges of what this country used to look like before sprawl took root. In many cases, clinging to these landscapes are species whose very existence is threatened or endangered.
In the case of Big Cypress, the Florida panther is one species whose very future depends on the sound preservation and management of the preserve. The panther is one of the most endangered animals in the Southeast, perhaps in the entire United States. But it's only the most obvious endangered species in Big Cypress, the poster child, if you will.
Other threatened and endangered species in Big Cypress include the red-cockaded woodpecker, the wood stork, bald eagle, Everglades snail kite, Cape Sable seaside sparrow, West Indian manatee, American alligator, and eastern indigo snake. And who knows what plants, insects, and invertebrates might exist in the preserve that also are threatened and endangered?
For those of you who believe that humans go there for the purpose of destroying nature, you are wrong, writes Bruce. 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.
Now, I'm not contending that people go to Big Cypress with their ORVs intentionally to destroy nature. I'm sure thrills and having a good time is on the agenda.
But as the accompanying photos illustrate, a good measure of disturbance -- the Park Service would term it "impacts" -- is occurring as a result of this access. Do those impacts constitute "impairment" of the ecosystem, something the Park Service is mandated to prevent?
I'm not sure anyone has a clearcut answer to that question, particularly since the Park Service didn't conduct all the studies the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had requested before it decided earlier this year to reopen the Bear Island Unit of the preserve to ORVs.
As to the second part of Bruce's comment, why is it OK to work to oppose development of the Florida Everglades and not to oppose development -- and ORV use arguably is a form of development -- of Big Cypress?
I think we need to proceed cautiously and carefully with issues such as those that we're confronted with not only at Big Cypress but throughout the national park system, at places such as Channel Islands National Park, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Everglades National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore and many, many other locations.
We don't know all the answers. We do know there are species that are clinging tenaciously in this potentially caustic mix of ecosystem, development, and recreation that we've created. And I would hope we, as a society, feel an obligation to bring them back from the brink.