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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.”


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 -

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.

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