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Big Cypress National Preserve To Limit Secondary Off-Road Travel Indefinitely

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Environmental organizations are claiming a victory over a settlement that will indefinitely close some off-road vehicle trails in Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida until officials can complete their Backcountry Access plan.

The agreement, reached as part of negotiations over the preserve's off-road vehicle plans, stands to benefit wildlife, such as the endangered Florida panther, and vegetation, as the preserve is home to nearly 100 plants listed by the State of Florida as endangered or threatened.

According to preserve officials, under the settlement all secondary ORV trails in Big Cypress will remain closed until further environmental review and analysis can be completed. 

“Our hope is that this agreement has permanently stopped the unchecked expansion of damaging ORVs in Big Cypress Preserve,” Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a prepared statement. “At a minimum, it will halt these damaging activities until the completion of a full assessment of their impacts on Florida panthers and other endangered wildlife, as well as sensitive waterways and the wild character of this irreplaceable natural gem.”

The secondary ORV trails were closed on June 2 as part of the preserve's annual 60-day recreational trail closure. Upon lifting of that closure on August 1, the National Park Service announced that the secondary trails would remain closed for an additional 60-day period, through September 29, as further negotiations with plaintiffs were held. Now officials say they have agreed to leave all secondary trails closed through the completion of the preserve's Backcountry Access planning effort. As part of the planning effort, the environmental impact of the secondary trails will be further analyzed.

"The judge in this case spoke clearly in May of the need to complete further environmental analysis of the secondary trails. We are listening to the judge and will be investing all of our effort to complete this process as expeditiously as possible," said Big Cypress Superintendent Pedro Ramos. "My expectation is that the outcome of the analysis will help to permanently define secondary trail locations in both the Addition Lands and the Original Preserve in a manner that will balance preservation and traditional access into the preserve as our legislation directs us to."

The NPS began the planning effort related to backcountry access in early 2014. More details on the planning process can be found at this site.  

Big Cypress has been the focus of several challenges in recent years over its management plans. The Park Service is being sued for decisions concerning off-road vehicle access in landscapes considered to be key to more than a few plant and animal species listed as threatened or endangered. Foremost in this leafy and swampy wild kingdom is the Florida panther, which has been described as the most-endangered mammal in North America.

In July 2012, a federal court ruled the Park Service acted without sound reasoning in 2007 when it reopened more than 22 miles of off-road vehicle trails in the Bear River Unit of the preserve. In its ruling, the court ordered that the routes be closed.

Courts currently are reviewing the decision by preserve Superintendent Ramos to open much of the Addition Lands Unit of Big Cypress to ORV use. The Addition Lands had been closed to both ORV use and ORV-assisted hunting ever since they came to the preserve in 1996 while officials worked on developing a management plan for the area. 

Preserve officials say this most recent planning effort will more clearly define management of a variety of backcountry use issues, including hiking, camping, and secondary ORV trail placement and designation.

The NPS anticipates the release and review of draft alternatives of the Backcountry Access plan next spring or summer, and estimates that a final record of decision would be signed in 2016.

Comments

This statement from article is not correct - Courts currently are reviewing the decision by preserve Superintendent Ramos to open much of the Addition Lands Unit of Big Cypress to ORV use. The Addition Lands had been closed to both ORV use and ORV-assisted hunting ever since they came to the preserve in 1996 while officials worked on developing a management plan for the area.

Suggest folks go here for the current status http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2014/09/environmentalists_lose_la...

In case anyone isnt quite sure - Hunting on foot which has also been closed since NPS took over the Addition also has been re-opened in the Addition lands of Big Cypress by way of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission executive order in coordination with NPS.

Gladesmen as well as many other trqditional visitors are also eagerly awaiting the completion of the new access plan which will hopefully tier off of the most recent Addition court decision. Movement of the scales of justice always seems slow but that's alright as lomg as they keep moving.

Yes, it looks as though some balance is coming to Big Cypress for a change from green extreme driven litigation.


Frank, Judge John Steele just recently ruled on the lawsuit involving the Addition Lands and ORVs. Traveler will have a story on that ruling in the coming days.


How many years for the "environmental review and analysis"?  


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