Big Cypress: ATVs or Panthers?
In wildlife conservation circles, logic might dictate that if one of the most endangered animals in the United States lives in your national park or preserve, you bend over backwards to protect that species and try to move it away from the brink of extinction.
But such logic apparently is lacking in South Florida, where officials at Big Cypress National Preserve have agreed to reopen 23 miles of trails in their Bear Island Unit to off-road vehicles toting turkey hunters despite that area being considered a panther "hot spot" by wildlife experts and home to four to six adult panthers.
Oddly, not only had one 1999 study pointed to a conflict between ORV use and panthers in the unit, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously had required preserve officials to study the possible impacts of ORV use in the Bear Island Unit on panthers before it moved forward with lifting the ORV ban. But that was never done.
Karen Gustin, the preserve's superintendent, acknowledged the requirement to conduct the studies and said the preserve was working on getting funding for them, writes the Bradenton Herald. But she said there was no requirement to conduct them prior to reopening the trails.
Ah, and this is where the plot thickens. The Herald reports that USFWS officials agreed to, shall we say, "overlook" that requirement to accommodate a request from "our sister agency."
Now, hunting is a perfectly acceptable activity in Big Cypress. But one would think that in a Park Service unit that acknowledges right up front that panthers are highly endangered that officials managing that unit wouldn't allow an activity which could be highly detrimental to the panthers' survival.