Paving pine rocklands = saving them?
In a March 7th letter to the editor Ram Realty chairman Peter D. Cummings defiantly responded to the public outcry over Ram’s plans to develop a significant tract of pine rocklands. He claimed that the development of this site in the form of Coral Reef Commons, a mixed-used residential and commercial complex, is the only viable option to preserve the pine rocklands. However, I’ve spent significant time conducting research in the surrounding Richmond Heights pine rocklands and Mr. Cummings’s claims continue to misrepresent the actual state of the Coral Reef Commons (CRC) site and its development. From his letter:
The development of Coral Reef Commons is the last, best hope for preservation of a major portion of the habitat.
This is simply not true. Mr. Cummings can paint a rosy picture of gentle development but Ram’s plans are to develop over two-thirds of the property. This simply does not preserve a significant portion of the critically endangered habitat.
As it currently sits, the area is severely degraded. Calling it pristine pine rockland isn’t accurate; every objective person that has walked the site agrees. It hasn’t been pristine for more than 70 years, since the U.S. government razed the area to build a blimp base during World War II. It is overrun by exotic non-native species that are choking out the native flora…
Yes, the site is degraded, but it is still able to be restored if Ram does not pave over the site. The foundation of pine rocklands is the oolitic limestone substrate and this is virtually intact on the property. The CRC site was not razed by the Navy to build the NAS blimp base; the property was home to various barracks and administrative buildings during and after the war. The next owner, the University of Miami, grossly mismanaged this area. The present poor condition of the site is due to the lack of any facility or habitat management by the University, not excessive development. The school even denied access requests from myself and other researchers to this and their other properties around Zoo Miami.
Rather than engage in knee-jerk reactions to unfounded claims, conservationists and the Herald should look to the commitment Ram has made to restore and preserve close to 50 percent of the site.
I’ll just let Ram’s actual numbers speak here:
The whole Coral Reef Commons site is 137 acres but Ram’s planned preserves total just 43 acres (not all of it pine rockland) – just over 30% of the property. So, contrary to Ram’s claims, under a third of this property will be preserved.
The new mixed-use community will be developed on a portion of the property that is most degraded — the site of an abandoned incinerator, shells of gutted buildings that once housed labs, abandoned trash piles, roads and monkey cages.
How do they propose to do this? Here is the actual status of the property:
Presently 47% of the CRC site is pine rocklands and a further 19% is other, largely hardwood, forest. About 22% of the site is green space, minimally modified from their original state, and a final 12% is heavily modified or developed (buildings, major roads, and parking lots). This is not the heavily developed, hopeless situation the Ram paints.
… Environmentalists want someone to buy the land to restore it, and that is exactly what we are doing.
On the left is an aerial photograph from 1938 before any development of the CRC site (outlined in red); notice intact pine rockland habitat. In the center is an image from 1952, after the peak of Richmond Naval Air Station. And on the right is a 2014 satellite image (from Google Earth). Notice how little of the overall CRC site has actually been significantly altered.
These pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the early logging and military developments on the site in the 1940s and these Richmond Heights rocklands represent a quarter of the 1.8% of this habitat left outside the Everglades National Park. Any further development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands and their inhabitants, principally by further fragmenting the remaining rocklands and stifling brush fires, a necessary ecological cycle for survival of the habitat.
The solution is not to develop over two-thirds of the site and its pine rocklands. Under one-eighth of the Coral Reef Commons site has been developed. Perhaps there is a more appropriate use for this rare habitat than yet more development. Let’s restore and preserve the seven-eighths of the property that is undeveloped and constructively use or mitigate the fraction of the property that is already developed. Pine rocklands are a unique and valuable part of Florida’s natural history and are worth preserving.
Areas for which exact figures were not available were estimated with the polygon tool in Google Earth and the polygon area calculator on earthpoint.us.
URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.