TAMPA (CN) – Five environmental groups say the National Park Service illegally approved more than 130 miles of off-road vehicle trails in an addition to the Big Cypress National Preserve, “one of the few remaining sizeable and contiguous tracts of relatively pristine and significantly undisturbed landscape in the eastern United States, and particularly in Florida”.
The Big Cypress National Preserve stretches from Miami to Naples. In 1988, it was expanded by about 146,000 acres. Although the original park allowed ORV trails, the additional lands never did, until the Park Service approved them in October 2010 and February this year. Those decisions allow “approximately 130 miles of primary ORV trails in the Addition, in addition to an unspecified mileage of secondary trails,” according to the complaint.
“In contrast to the original Preserve, where public ORV use and ORV-assisted hunting have long degraded soils, hydrology, plants, wildlife, habitat and other natural resources, public ORV use and hunting have never been previously authorized in the Addition. Therefore, the Addition constitutes one of the few remaining sizeable and contiguous tracts of relatively pristine and significantly undisturbed landscape in the eastern United States, and particularly in Florida, available for peaceful enjoyment and solitude by visitors,” the complaint states.
Plaintiffs are Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Florida Biodiversity Project, Sierra Club, South Florida Wildlands Association, Wilderness Watch, and Brian Scherf, a hiker and member of the Florida Biodiversity Project.
“NPS [the National Park Service] has found that once ORV use displaces soils, there are no natural mechanisms capable of restoring the natural topography. As a result, the damage can be permanent, effectively altering hydrology and promoting unnatural vegetation succession. …
“Additional studies have found that ORV use in Big Cypress National Preserve has impacted wildlife populations (including Endangered Species Act-listed wildlife) habitats through modifications to water flow patterns and water quality, soil displacement and compaction, direct vegetation damage, disturbance to foraging individuals and, ultimately, overall reduction in the suitability of habitat for wildlife. …
“Moreover, despite acknowledging in the EIS [environmental impact statement] that unknown levels of adverse impacts would inevitably result to diverse resources in the addition, including to surface water flows and the spread of invasive species, NPS failed to gather pertinent information on which to fully analyze the environmental impacts or to apprise the public of the extent of such impacts. NPS similarly failed to investigate and analyze the inevitable impacts to resources with respect to several listed species, including Florida panthers, for which vital research is lacking concerning the expected impacts of ORV use and ORV-assisted hunting on panthers and their prey.”
The environmentalists sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe. They seek declaratory judgment and an injunction.