PRESS RELEASE

STRONG WARNINGS ON SW FLORIDA DEVELOPMENT IGNORED

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Washington, DC — In February 2001, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
strenuously objected to waves of proposed developments slated for southwest Florida,
according to agency records released today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). Over ensuing months as the Bush Administration transitioned
in, however, Service objections to projects quieted and then disappeared altogether.

In tones vastly different from its current pronouncements, the Fish & Wildlife
Service argued in 2001 that the lax permitting practices of the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers had “exacerbated wetland losses in southwest Florida and
has hastened the loss of other important wildlife habitat.” The Service
expressed alarm at “the trend in wetland habitat loss and its contribution
to significant degradation of aquatic ecosystems.” It also warned that
the present drive for development threatened to undo the work of “billions
of dollars” invested in Everglades restoration.

The February 2001 presentation by the Service focused on 24 proposed projects
as well as 15 other projects where the FWS had already formally objected. Significantly,
virtually all of the projects have gone ahead notwithstanding Service concerns
that fell into three major groupings:

  • No assessment of cumulative effects. Each project’s impacts were
    considered in isolation, without adding up the total effects of all the projects.
    As a result, the region’s ecosystem is sustaining death by a thousand
    cuts;
  • Improper mitigation. According to the Service, the Corps routinely violates
    its own policy of not accepting creation of new wetlands or other supposedly
    compensatory actions by the developer “in lieu of first avoiding, then
    minimizing adverse impacts.” As a result, natural wetlands are being
    destroyed in return for poorly functioning artificial replacements; and
  • Failure to conduct required analyses of alternatives. The Service contends
    that the Corps sidesteps its own policies and tilts the regulatory playing
    field so that development is always the preferred alternative.

“Four years after sounding the alarm, the Fish & Wildlife Service
has fallen through the political looking glass and now defends what it once
condemned,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization
is representing Service biologists who say that their environmental concerns
have been squelched. “The very same projects that the Service cited for
exacerbating environmental problems are now proceeding without a hitch, despite
the irreversible problems they will cause.”

Environmental groups have since challenged a number of the destructive projects
listed by the Fish & Wildlife Service. For example, a federal district court
invalidated a mining permit for Florida Rock Industries last fall in a suit
brought by the National Wildlife Federation.

“Unfortunately, all of the ill effects predicted by the Fish & Wildlife
Service in 2001 are coming true today,” Ruch added. “Soon, the only
open space in southwest Florida outside of federal preserves will be on golf
courses.”

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Read
the February 2001 draft memo detailing FWS objections to proposed southwest
Florida projects

View
the PowerPoint presentation outlining “Policy Concerns” by the Fish
& Wildlife Service

See
how projects went forward without correction

Look
at the silencing of Fish & Wildlife Service scientists in Florida