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Groups Announce Intent To Sue Over Big Cypress National Preserve ORV Plan


A coalition of groups has announced its intention to sue the National Park Service over the off-road vehicle plan approved for the Addition lands in Big Cypress National Preserve.

The legal move was not unexpected, as several conservation groups last fall had voiced concerns over the plan, which would allow upwards of 130 miles of primary off-road vehicle routes -- and an undetermined number of secondary routes -- to be threaded through the Addition lands.

The Addition parcel is a 147,000-acre tract in the northeastern corner of the preserve. It was given to the Park Service in 1996 in a land swap with the state of Florida. At the time, Congress directed the Park Service to ban off-road vehicles and hunting in the Addition until a management plan could be developed. That plan was released in its final form in November, and officially approved by the Park Service's Southeast regional director in February.

By adopting its preferred alternative, one criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, members of Congress, and conservation groups, the Park Service chose to "maximize motorized access, provide the least amount of wilderness, and develop limited new hiking only trails." With this approach, the Park Service apparently was not swayed by moderate, long-term adverse impacts to water flows, to the control of non-native vegetation, or to the Florida panther the plan would deliver.

Cast aside was the "environmentally preferred" alternative, which would "emphasize resource preservation, restoration, and research while providing recreational opportunities with limited facilities and support. This alternative would provide the maximum amount of wilderness, no ORV use, and minimal new facilities for visitor contact along I-75."

On Wednesday a Notice of Intent to Sue (attached below) was filed by the Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the South Florida Wildlands Association, and the Florida Biodiversity Project. Filing the notice on behalf of the groups was the Washington, D.C., law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal. By filing the notice, the groups give the Park Service, Interior Department, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 60 days to correct potential violations of the Endangered Species Act cited by the groups.

Specifically, the groups maintain that the management plan will be detrimental to such endangered species as the Florida panther and red-cockaded woodpecker, as well as to threatened species such as the Eastern indigo snake, that reside in the Addition lands.

“We are asking the federal agencies involved to protect three highly-endangered species: the Florida Panther, the Indigo Snake and the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker,” said Bradley Stark, Esq., representing the Sierra Club. “This letter is intended to provide the agencies with an opportunity to reconsider whether this level of off-road vehicle use is allowable under federal law considering the anticipated impacts to wildlife, habitat, and one of the last pieces of wilderness that remains east of the Rocky Mountains.”

The Notice of Intent argues that the Big Cypress ORV plan would carve up thousands of acres of habitat essential to the survival of the highly endangered Florida panther.

Among the impacts that the agencies failed to even analyze was ORV traffic and motorized hunting that will significantly diminish available prey for the predatory cat, the groups maintain.

“The National Park Service is well aware of the critical importance of these lands for numerous threatened and endangered plants and animals in south Florida,” said Matthew Schwartz of South Florida Wildlands Association. “The agency could and should have chosen a course of action which puts protection of irreplaceable natural resources above motorized recreation.”

In its criticism of the selected alternative, the EPA in January expressed concern about ORVs “fragmenting the landscape into a disorganized and destructive web of trails and roads.” EPA also predicted increased air, soil and water pollution

“These lands represent the largest remaining tract of undesignated wilderness in Florida – a scarce and precious treasure of the American people,” added Brian Scherf of the Florida Biodiversity Project, pointing out that the impacts from parking lots and access points into formerly undisturbed lands were also completely overlooked.

If no measures are taken by the agencies to bring themselves into compliance with the Endangered Species Act, the groups intend to bring their legal concerns under the Endangered Species Act and other statutes that they maintain were overlooked in the decision-making process into federal court.

“Big Cypress is supposed to be a natural preserve, not a motorized recreation area,” said Jeff Ruch of PEER, noting that the Park Service improperly stripped wilderness eligibility from 40,000 acres of Preserve lands that were then re-designated for ORV trails. “This Big Cypress plan represents a new low for the National Park Service.”


I must agree with Lee, the NPS, in not adopting the environmentally preferred alternative, has cast a shadow on the protection of these preserve lands. Kudo's to the groups taking the NPS to court over this.

Seems like the last time I visited Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, Zion, etc. (fill in the park o f your choice) there were miles and miles of roadways being driven by all manner of motor vehicles, filled with people. They didn't look too "elite" to me.

As a ORV person who is in Bear Island 2 or 3 dozen times a year... The studies were done before the area was opened... a liberal judge manages to throw his two cents in on the matter who has never not once even set foot there makes such sweeping judgements... shame on him. As one a member of a local off road club who among many other clubs have repeatedly asked if we could help with clean up days or trail maintainence weekends and alway be told no thanks... it is a true shame that some will make what we enjoy illegal with the simple swipe of the pen. I offer to that judge an invitation to go wheeling with our club anytime... so that he might truly understand the perspective from BOTH sides.

I expect we will get an idea this summer when we see what the closurer results are. Remember, the conservation groups did in effect set the criteria for the restrictions. They could get what they expected. Why would they not have signed the Decree. We will see.

Ron (obxguys)

Ron,  If the environmental groups had really wanted to close CAHA beaches to vehicles all they had to do was not sign the Consent Decree.  What more proof do you need?

Ron it makes more sense
for you to contact one of these organizations and ask them point blank their
feelings about ORV use in CHNS.

From my experience they
are sincere and will give you honest answers.

To SS1
You refer to representatives for the 3 conservation groups and that you spoke to two of them, you further imply that this occurred during neg-reg. Could you please tell me who these representatives are asI can only recall one person speaking for the conservation groups that actually said anything committal and that was Jason Rylander. Please help me out here. Maybe I missed where it was that anyone said anything to the effect that these groups had no agenda to close down the beaches to orv access. However, the ensuing law suit and resulting Consent Decree as well as additional statements and actions by Judge Boyle certainly left me with the impression that closure of the beaches to ORV access could realistically be an end result.
Convince me my feelings are unfounded. You can do it by just naming someone with the conversation groups, in a position of authority, that has said "NO", we will not pursue closing the beaches to ORV access.

Ron (obxguys)

PS: When you get a chance, could you also fill me in on the situation with walking dogs on the beach in Southern Shores. The VP article left me wondering exactly what is going on with that. I'm not trying to be funny. Contrary to what you might think, I value your points of view.

"The two sides have differing views about protecting the resource. I think it would be difficult for conservation groups to ever say this is the only way (final way) to manage any resource."

When refering to the furture of this island this indeed is a great quote about the future...

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