The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
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Wilderness Vanishing Act in Big Cypress

Converting 40,000 Wilderness-Suitable Acres to ORV Trails Violates Law and Policy


In one of the most contrived moves in recent memory by a land
management agency, the National Park Service has reclassified 40,000
acres of Big Cypress National Preserve land that was eligible for
wilderness designation to be ineligible - clearing the way for a network
of off-road vehicle (ORV) trails. This quickie reclassification of
lands violates both law and agency policies, according to a legal
complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER).

Back in 1988, Congress added lands to Florida's Big Cypress National
Preserve and directed the National Park Service (NPS) to study which of
those lands would be suitable for designation as wilderness. Two
analyses, one in 2002 and the other in 2009, concluded that the vast
majority of the 147,000 acres of the Addition lands was wilderness
eligible. In April 20, 2010, Pedro Ramos, Superintendent of the
Preserve, signed off on a new "reanalysis" that found only 71,000 acres
were eligible. This stripped wilderness eligibility from 40,000 acres -
all of which are about to be declared open for building ORV trails.

This wilderness reanalysis was kept under wraps, contrary to agency
policy, and was first unveiled on November 23, 2010, when NPS published
its Final General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement for the
Big Cypress Addition - thus circumventing required public involvement
in wilderness eligibility decisions and pulling a bait-and-switch on the
public who commented on the draft plan.

"Under Bush, we never saw this type of blatant maneuvering to reduce
park protections that we are seeing now at Big Cypress," stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that NPS, adding insult to injury,
declared its ORV plan as the "environmentally preferable alternative" to
the status quo where ORV are barred. "In the fifty year history of
wilderness review in the national park system there have been few, if
any, examples of disqualifying eligible lands to accommodate motorized
recreation, and certainly nothing of this magnitude."

The Big Cypress wilderness reanalysis also reversed NPS's own
professional review conducted in July 2006 and refined over a three year
period for public release in May 2009. In contrast to that detailed
work, the 2010 reanalysis is a total of 12 pages long, cites no data and
asserts that human intrusion has ruined the wild character of lands
that are now so rugged that they are largely inaccessible.

Today, PEER filed a complaint charging that the Big Cypress
wilderness reanalysis violates the Data Quality Act which requires
materials distributed or relied upon by federal agencies be accurate,
reliable and in compliance with law and policy. Among other flaws, the
PEER complaint cites that Park Service officials violated NPS Management
Policies governing wilderness eligibility assessments and employed
standards wildly inconsistent from those employed by both NPS and other
federal land management agencies. PEER is demanding that the reanalysis
be withdrawn and the 2009 wilderness assessment is reinstated or that a
new, peer-reviewed assessment be performed. NPS has 60 days to respond
to the PEER complaint. If NPS rejects the complaint, PEER can appeal
to the NPS Director.

"This transparent land management gerrymandering does not pass the
laugh test," added Ruch. "It is no coincidence that the 40,000 acres
formerly suitable for wilderness are now suitable only for ORV trails."


Read the PEER complaint

View the 12-page wilderness reanalysis

Trace the history of wilderness in the Big Cypress Addition

Look at the stalled wilderness throughout the national park system

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.