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.”

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Comments

Here we go again. I can't believe it. Is it possible that I could actually feel sorry for the National Park Service. Can't they get anything right. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. I guess If you have a history of limiting some groups from doing something then you will be expected to limit all groups from doing that same thing. No matter wether it is right or wrong. Sounds like a catch 22. That old nasty word SUE is here again. Should probably feel sorry for the tax payers too. Ron (obxguys)

It's OK to feel bad for the NPS, like you said, they provide access, they get sued, they restrict access, they get sued...

"The legal move was not unexpected"

You crack me up Kurt...

Sue the parks closed it is nothing but a big hypocracy anyway. they allow the elite in an send away the rest. If you cannot walk far enough to enjoy the park then too bad for you. The only winners are like any other court case the Lawyers.

Welcome to the national park service from this point on. If you do not believe it wait 5 more years and then come back and say I am right. And I hate being right about this.

Matt, the tea leaves were easy to read.

More seriously, though, I don't think you're going to be right about the access issue at all. There is more accessible acreage in the National Park System than inaccessible. Even at Cape Hatteras.

And just as there already are ORV routes at Big Cypress -- and just as there will continue to be regardless of the outcome of this latest action -- there will continue to be ORV access at Cape Hatteras.

Are things perfect for all? No. But then, can they be?

And the park system is not being locked up or closed by any stretch of the imagination.

Around the system more and more accessible trails are being installed, and at Cape Lookout National Seashore, for example, the Park Service can even provide a beach wheelchair if one is needed.

And really, are these lawsuits about forwarding the causes of any "elite" group, or rather about the conservation of nature? The conservation groups aren't suing to gain acreage for their own pleasure or access, but to get the agencies involved to stand by the environmental laws that Congress passed.

If some in Congress get their wish and succeed in repealing laws such as the Endangered Species Act or the Wilderness Act or the National Environmental Policy Act, will we be better off for that, or worse off?

If not for those environmental laws we might not have seen wolves returned to Yellowstone, a move that by some measures pumps tens of millions of dollars into the local economies each year. And don't you think the folks who live around Great Smoky Mountains National Park are glad to see (and hear) elk back in the park?

There are more examples out there, but I think you catch my drift....

And, finally, if not for the park system and the national seashore at Cape Hatteras, do you think you'd enjoy spending so much time there? I shudder at the development that would have taken place if the seashore had not be established.

Kurt - just read your article - and your own comments above.

While your article is your usual professional work, your comments are some of the best writing
(and thinking) I've seen on the topic yet - on the Big Cypress Addition Lands and on the purpose of our National Parks in general.

The idea that a nearly broke environmental activist (such as myself) constitutes some kind of an "elite" really is a bit strange. The Big Cypress Addition Lands are open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day right now for anyone who wants to go in on foot. it is gentle, flat ground and far easier to hike than the "mountains" of Georgia or even New Jersey. Rainfall has been so sparse this year that at this time a hike won't even get your feet wet. And you'll experience a place that is beautiful, tranquil, loaded with biodiversity (quite possibly more than any other unit of the National Park Service), and completely free of charge.

Most of original preserve has been deeply impacted by the use of off-road vehicles. The National Park Service's own Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan written for the original preserve reads like an encyclopedia of impacts. Nevertheless, much of the original preserve remains open to this "high impact recreational activity" (as referred to by the NPS itself) - and no one is contesting that use. Folks on this website wanting more information on the effects of off-road vehicle use in Big Cypress from the National Park Service's own point of view can find the entire plan here -

http://www.nps.gov/bicy/planyourvisit/orv-use.htm

Click the link towards the bottom of the page - ORV Management Plan (2000)

Keep up the great work Kurt.

Matt Schwartz
South Florida Wildlands Association

I was told by a USFS worker that about half of all thier budget is spent on lawsuits. What a waste of tax payer dollars. One tort law change would double the NFS and NPS budgets!

"Around the system more and more accessible trails are being installed,
and at Cape Lookout National Seashore, for example, the Park Service can
even provide a beach wheelchair if one is needed."

WOW million in lawsuits and we have one wheelchair.... Lets pat everyone on the back now that we can push one person not able to walk out on the beach drop them off and then go back for another. This is COMPROMISE...

"And, finally, if not for the park system and the national seashore at
Cape Hatteras, do you think you'd enjoy spending so much time there? I
shudder at the development that would have taken place if the seashore
had not be established."

I shudder at the fact that the park is becoming so restricted that it no longer is predictable. I cannot just come down for vacation and be sure we can get to the beaches (neither can you because put a plover at each entrance and in the villages and this little island is closed). I can attend and be funneled onto the beach surrounded by signs telling me not to move from my towel, but where is the recreational freedom in that. Congrats and pat yourselves on the back as this park experience is no longer fitting for my attendance and it has nothing to do with restricting my ORV access. Me and my family will go elsewhere on my vacations as will many more families.

Our Cape Hastteras National Seashore and Recreational Area is now home to a few birds...just like the founding fathers of the NPS dreamed up in the beginning.

Matt, if you've studied even a little about the founding of the National Park Service you know that public enjoyment of the parks was very high on the founders' list.

As for your claims about the restrictions on your "recreational freedom," you'll be happy to know that I plan to visit Cape Hatteras this summer to see for myself how your ability to move about has been impacted.

Indeed, judging from the approved ORV management plan, your complaints seem tinged with a little hyperbole. As I read it, the plan allows for nearly 28 miles of year-round designated ORV routes on the seashore, and nearly 13 miles of seasonal routes, for a total of roughly 41 miles out of the 67 miles of seashore. Just 26.4 miles are off-limits to ORVs.

Is there not somewhere within those 41 miles that you can enjoy the seashore?

Is there not somewhere within those 41 miles that you can enjoy the seashore?"
This claim always is measured in miles. What it really needs to say in unguarenteed miles open for access. Not one mile is guarenteed open, meaning less than 50 threatened birds or a birds of concern could strut their stuff at each ramp and beach entrance and BOOM no beach. There could be a case where all is open, but you cannot access it. This is the SPIN provided by all who opposed ORV's on the beach.

So in respect to what is open you can keep that for the uniformed tourists to dissappoint them. I know for a fact that one day it says open and the next it can be closed. Once Alt F is in place it will restrict access even further allowing smaller numbers of birds to close larger regions. LOOK AT THE MAPS and find a reason for why and where the VFA's are designated.

Please stop refering to this as only an ORV issue. Pedestrians cannot go there either...
Bring sunblock and a camera when you come and we will see how objective your coverage will be.
"Matt, if you've studied even a little about the founding of the National
Park Service you know that public enjoyment of the parks was very high
on the founders' list."
I have and now it is no where on any agenda. The NPS today lives to ask for more money, pay off lawyers, and look to aquire more land it cannot fund. Kind of reminds me of someone who cries poor while driving a BMW to their trailer filled with maxed out credit cards. My words of advice to the NPS is live wihin your means and stop funding lawyers.

Matt I disagree with your opinion on ORV regulations at CHNS. Your facts to support your opinions should be true. Attacks on groups whose opinion differ from yours are unproductive. For example from one of your other comments on a different article you contend that environmental lawyers choose their cases by the ones they think they will win, only because of personal financial gain. It appears you have an axe to grind and it is obvious who that axe is directed towards.

If you change your mind you will find beautiful places to recreate in CHNS any
time of the year.

If walking in a National Park is elitist, than put me down as one!

I recently visited Ft. Bowie in Arizona. This is a very remote place and access to the visitor center and the fort's ruins are via a 1-1/2 mile foot trail.

But before anyone gets all into a tizzy, the FOBO brochure adds that anyone with access issues may call the visitor center for directions on how to drive to the VC.

The brochure also notes that the hike into the area is "an essential part of your experience." It was. It really brought home to this old man the fortitude of anyone who lived and worked here before transportation moved beyond feet and horses. It was an awesome experience. Had there been a paved highway to the visitor center, I and countless others would have been robbed.

There will always be those who think it is their right to go roaring through and over the world and everything in it with big-tires and powerful engines. There will always be some who will demand their "right" to partake of whatever testosterone fueled machoness they wish to engage in. There will always be some whose age, physical condition, or whatever may limit their ability to access portions of the world. And there will always be some who treasure a place of peace and quiet and unspoiled natural wonder.

There is no way under the sun any agency can accomodate all of the them at the same time or in the same place. The Park Service does a more than wonderful job as they try to balance all these demands against the overiding requirement that we "preserve unimpaired" all these places we all should treasure.

Anyone who cannot, or will not, respect the wishes and needs of others and be willing to make REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION for them, is nothing less than greedy.

But then, greed seems to be the new American Way.

Ryan you do not get it. You cannot walk on the beaches closed for the birds. By elitist I mean people who recreate with a spotting scope. These groups (in my opinion) version of recreation is one step above a video game playing teenager or a peeping tom. Like all who state they wish to access parks I will say I agree there is nothing like being emersed in nature.

That is not the case in Cape Hatteras when they close the beaches to the birds. It is already happening in Cape Cod with closures that prevent ORV access, But the difference in Cape Hatteras is that the closures affect ALL.

When presented with the option to recreate in CAHA I will say I would, but now you are not guarenteed to be able to access any of the beaches as they are on the watch fro these birds. If they land and nest a 2,000 meter long section of beach is closed. Simple math state it would not take much to close the entire island down. This bit of info is true and looking at it any other way is Optimism. Proaccess (NOT PRO ORV if indeed you can understand the difference) optimism is a more concentrated grouping. All others optimism is more birds without regard to access.

When Kurt visits this summer I challenge him to report the facts. I also challenge SS! and others to make themselves available to try and spin their version of why he cannot see all of this beautiful seashore without thousands of signs blocking his view.

Matt, I disagree, I do get it. I have a strong connection to CAHA, I got married on the beach there, and my family has been going there for 40 years! I can always find a place to walk on the beach...if any area is closed, I find another, not a big deal to me.

Agreed but nieve. You simply will not recognize a simple mathmatical fact that these birds can (and will according to the numbers wished for in the recovery listed in the DEIS) shut down the beaches. I too have deep roots within this seashore in terms of multiple yearly visits from 3 to 12 times in fact over the last twenty years (lived in Michigan before that). The facts of the case are vey clea, but unless it happens no one believes it.

So here we are today living under this current situation. cup half full and cup half empty and there is nothing anyone can do about it unless lawyers or the president get involved. I assure you after reading about the history of the Big Cypress and seeing how no matter what happens we are assured in CAHA that there will be another suit from the enviros side because they did not get their way and they will find a way to bend and shape the rules to fit. This knowledge comes from recent history...

Matt, the beaches at CAHA will NEVER be closed to people, and saying that is just ridiculous and obscures the facts. I can understand your concern, but half the NPS mission is for recreation, that will secure people's use of the beaches until the Organic Act is re-written or CAHA ceases to be a unit of the NPS.

Matt, your arguments are hard to swallow even if there may be some validity to them. When you start using hyperbole such as, ". . .. why he cannot see all of this beautiful seashore without thousands of signs blocking his view," you lose a lot of credibility.

I've read many of your posts here, and although I've agreed with some of your points, much of what you say is obscured by over the top statements that are not backed up by any kind of data.

Do you, by any chance, have some kind of commercial or financial interest you are trying to support here?

"there will be another suit from the enviros side because they did not get their way and they will find a way to bend and shape the rules to fit"

I suppose this would be an issue if the "enviros" were also the ones ruling on their suit.

"the beaches at CAHA will NEVER be closed to people, and saying that is just ridiculous and obscures the facts."

DO the Math 19 plover nest at 1,000 meters apart is >the islands available beaches. Simple, but you are saying that the NPS will have to accomodate the people for recreation? where is that written in any form? Enough data Lee?

Lee, the famous items are obstructing my view is the same arguement used by anti ORV people, even though none of them are on the beach at the same locations I am...I do positively know there were none because I was there. What is more desturbing to you while lying on the beach in CAHA thousands of signs or the ORV's... Hint the signs stay there for months and ORV's leave each day.

"I suppose this would be an issue if the "enviros" were also the ones ruling on their suit."

In fact the judge (Terrance Boyle) on this case has specifically tried several times to end ORV's on the beaches and he has stated so in court.

"In fact the judge (Terrance Boyle) on this case has specifically tried several times to end ORV's on the beaches and he has stated so in court."

I'm not sure I follow your point, Matt. You seem to be suggesting that this judge is himself actually one of the "enviros" bend[ing] and shap[ing] the rules--i.e. the law. If this is so, why did he only "try" and not succeed? What prevented this?

justinh

The conservative republican judge (Judge Boyle) that was appointed
by Bush didn’t close all the beaches to ORV access because Defenders, Audubon
and SELC didn’t pursue that outcome. There interest was solely in resource
protection. They do not have an agenda to keep people out of the Park as ORV
access supporters suggest.

Justinh
Are you sure of that, and if so, Please tell me on what you base that statement. I particularly like the part " The conservative republican judge (judge Boyle) that was appointed by Bush didn't close all the beaches to ORV access because Defenders, Audubon and SELC didn't pursue that outcome". I totally agree with you on that one. I believe, as apparently you do, that had they pursued that outcome, we would have no doubt faced closure of all beaches to ORV access. Says a lot about our judicial system concerning this matter, don't you think. Furthermore, these folks are pretty smart and have done this alot. There is no rush. They take you out a little at a time. No agenda ? Hope ypu know what you are talking about. Are your dues paid up, because I want you to have a lot of influence.

Ron (obxguys)

To correct my previous comment.
It was intended to be addressed to SS1.
My apologies to justinh.

Ron (obxguys)

SS1 the below exerpt was written by Kurt R. on our freind the Judge...

"A federal judge has said the National Park Service can't legally allow off-road vehicle traffic at Cape Hatteras National Seashore
because it doesn't an ORV management plan in place. And yet, Cape
Hatteras officials say they have to consult with the Interior Department
before prohibiting the traffic.

What sort of message is the Park Service trying to send? I mean, when
a judge declares that illegal behavior is occurring, should you stop
that behavior, or merely think about stopping it?"

I have no way of knowing what the Conservation groups or the ORV access groups will do in the future.

I have viewed all the available reg/neg tapes and read every transcript and document that I have come across issued by the 3 conservation groups. I have talked one on one with 2 of the group’s representatives and asked them point blank were they pursing closing the NPS beach to all ORV use now or in the future. Nothing suggests to me they have that agenda. If you have information contrary to that assessment I would like to read it.

On the other hand I did read the proposal from the ORV access coalition presented at the reg/neg. They proposed an incredible small amount of non-vehicle access of very limited wilderness/esthetic value. They did not propose any alternative access or pedestrian access compromises.

I am much more concerned with what the ORV access side will propose in the future. I am concerned that under the guise of “Recreational Area” they will morph this Park into a ORV seashore parkway.

"They did
not propose any alternative access or pedestrian access compromises."

The ORV community was not planning on closing the beaches, So they did not have to allocate alternative access for specific groups.

"They proposed an incredible small amount of
non-vehicle access of very limited wilderness/esthetic value. "

Such as the existing miles of Pea Island, Frontage of all villages? With all remaining as shared access! There side proposed signs, strings and padlocks...

Recent history (see article above, combined with the suit after agreeing not to at the Regneg .) dictates that this is a pattern with these groups... Millions of minions waiting to add to the lawyers pockets.

Yes, Matt, and those EVIL Republicans are looking more like the People's Party, LOL. Why don't we just get to the "ultimate preferred alternative" that these enviro groups would like and see where that fits in. The pendulum swings both ways at pretty similar trajectories. People are tired of the litigation that is more a career path for the strident. Take away the financial gain of being adversary to "sense" and we might get a better outcome.

SSI
When you asked if the conservation groups would pursue closing the beach to ORV access, Did ANY of the representatives respond "No".
Please note that pedestrian access will automatically be assured where ever orv access is retained. Thus, show me the need to single out pedestrian access. Mute point, I'd say.
As far as I am concerned, the rest of your comment is irrelevent. I think their reputation speaks for itself. The main thing you just don't seem to get, when you keep trying to compare the conservation groups and the orv groups, is that the orv groups have not and are not trying to restrict any activity the conservation folks want to do. The orv groups are simply trying to keep doing what they have been doing for decades. Always defending.
They are all for reasonable protection of the resources but it will never be enough and you know it.
Thats it.

Ron (obxguys)

Ron,

“When you asked if the conservation groups would pursue closing the beach to ORV access, Did ANY of the representatives respond "No".”

Every representative I talked with that had anything to do with the reg/neg or the Consent decree all told me they had no agenda of closing all of CAHA's beaches to ORV use, period.

“Please note that pedestrian access will automatically be assured where ever orv access is retained. Thus, show me the need to single out pedestrian access. Mute point, I'd say.”

That is the major problem for me with this issue. The ORV access groups see little difference between ORV access and vehicle free access. The ORV side has consistently proposed very small areas of marginal recreational/scenic value to be designated as vehicle free areas.

“They are all for reasonable protection of the resources but it will never be enough and you know it.”

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.

"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...

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.
Ron

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.

http://www.audubon.org/locations/audubon-north-carolina

http://www.southernenvironment.org/about/offices/nc_sc_office/

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?

OBXer
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)

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.

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.

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.