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Florida Plans on Chopping Down an Endangered Forest to Build a Walmart

A Florida developer is planning to chop down an endangered forest to build a Walmart and other big box stores.

The 88 acre plot of Pine Rocklands– one of less than 3,000 acres remaining outside of Everglades National Park – is home to a number of plants found nowhere else in the world, including five so rare they are federally listed as threatened or endangered.

The pines are also home to the bald eagle, indigo snake and other species listed at-risk of extinction.

The value of the land from a conservation standpoint, though,  did not stop the University of Miami (UM) from selling the plot off to a developer, who plans to evict the endangered species and put up a shopping mall and condo complex.

In fairness, Ram – the same company behind a number of strip malls throughout Florida – has set aside nearly 40 acres to keep as a nature preserve, which according to county biologist John Tim Joyner is better than nothing, considering the fact no one is currently managing the land at all.

“I agree more could have been preserved. But what they preserved complied with the code,” Joyner said.

The federal government also said that they would watch the project closely, but can only act if an endangered species is killed or if federal property or money is involved, which is not the case so far.

“Our listed plants are very rare, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that so little habitat remains. So we certainly place a great value on these species’ conservation,” said Craig W. Aubrey, South Florida field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stressing the agencies actions are limited by current law.

A loophole in the county codes also prohibits managing and protecting an area – like the Pine Rocklands forest – until, ironically, the site is developed.

“That land, until development is triggered, simply sits there. The designation [of protected forest] doesn’t automatically trigger any management or maintenance of the land,” said Craig Grossenbacher, chief of the county’s Natural Resources Planning Section.

Environmentalists, however, counter that something should be done to change existing enforcement and stop Walmarts from trumping endangered species every time.
“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association said, stressing that preservation should not always have to take a backseat to profits.
Photo Credit: Miguel.v

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.