Conservation Groups Call on Park Service to Protect the Florida Panther

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Defenders of Wildlife • Sierra Club • Wildlands CPR • The Wilderness Society • National Parks Conservation Association • The Humane Society of the United States • Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility • The Florida Biodiversity Project

Contact: Mike Senatore, Defenders of Wildlife (202-682-9400)
Kristen Brengel, The Wilderness Society (202-429-2694)
Matthew Schwartz, Sierra Club Broward Chapter (954-764-2739)

Conservation Groups Call on Park Service to Protect the Florida Panther

Park Service Should Not Have Opened More Routes to Off-Road Vehicles in Big Cypress National Preserve

St. Petersburg, FL — A coalition of conservation groups today called on the National Park Service (NPS) to close nearly twenty miles of recently re-opened motorized vehicle trails in southern Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve. The unnecessary trails are in the most sensitive habitat of the Bear Island Unit, an area in the northwest corner of Big Cypress frequented by the critically endangered Florida panther. The Florida panther population, isolated in southern Florida to five percent of its historic range, is estimated at a number fewer than 100. Loss and fragmentation of suitable habitat has been identified as one of the most significant threats to the panther’s continued survival.

This recent trail mileage increase in Bear Island flies in the face of a ten year effort to curb massive, damaging off-road vehicle abuse in Big Cypress. The routes in question were closed in 2000 as the result of legal action in 1995 challenging NPS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failures to protect the fragile ecosystems of Big Cypress from excessive swamp buggy and all-terrain vehicle damage.

“In Big Cypress and other public lands, off-road vehicle use has had well-documented and significant adverse effects on wildlife populations and their habitats. Florida has one of the most endangered species in the country—the panther. What do we really need—more off-road vehicle routes or more protection for the panther?” said Matthew Schwartz, political chair of Sierra Club’s Florida Broward chapter.

The recent decision to expand the number of off-road vehicle routes in Bear Island violates the terms of an ORV management plan finalized for the preserve in 2000 and is inconsistent with NPS policies that emphasize resource protection over recreational activities. Environmental groups Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Wildlands CPR, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, The Humane Society of the United States, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Florida Biodiversity Project have asked Big Cypress Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos and NPS Director Mary Bomar to close newly opened routes immediately and are hoping to resolve the issue outside of court.

“Swamp buggies and all-terrain vehicles are still allowed on 400 miles of routes throughout the preserve. We believe that authorizing more motorized vehicle routes in this particular area of the preserve, however, is inappropriate and prohibited by the preserve’s management plan,” said Laurie MacDonald, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s programs in Florida.


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