The Miami-Dade Pine Rocklands


Frank Ridgley’s video of the Miami tiger beetle

Frank Ridgley at Zoo Miami has some fantastic video of the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindela floridana); check out this exquisite little species in action:

Ram Realty’s “Technical and Legal Submittal” and “Supplemental Response” to the Miami Tiger Beetle Emergency Listing Petition

In response to a December 11, 2014 emergency listing petition to protect the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindela floridana) filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, advocacy groups, and several individuals (myself included), Ram Realty retained the law firm Gunster, “Florida’s Law Firm for Business,” to craft their reply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Luna E. Phillips is a “Florida Bar board certified Gunster shareholder who practices in the area of environmental, administrative and governmental law [and] leads the firm’s Environmental practice” (from Gunster’s website) wrote and submitted two responses to USFWS totaling some 7,500 words! However, in both of these documents there are serious systematic errors and fatal misunderstandings or, even worse, flagrant misrepresentation of the science. Below I’ve reproduced both of Ram’s filings in red and my comments in black.

Technical and Legal Submittal regarding the December 11, 2014 Emergency Listing Petition Filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, et al:

January 14, 2015

Dear Ms. Blackford:

As you know, this firm represents Coral Reef Retail LLC and Coral Reef Resi Ph I LLC, the owners of the Coral Reef Commons property (Coral Reef Owners). Enclosed is a Technical and Legal Submittal regarding the December 11, 2014 Emergency Listing Petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, et al. This Technical and Legal Submittal identifies the flaws in the emergency petition, and the Coral Reef Owners urge the US. Fish and Wildlife Service to carefully review before making a determination on the emergency petition.

The Coral Reef Owners respectfully request that this Technical and Legal Submittal be added to the administrative record for the Miami tiger beetle potential listing, and should the Service make any determinations on the emergency petition, Coral Reef Owners request to be notified. Please do not hesitate to contact me at or via email if you have any questions regarding the content of this letter.



Luna E. Phillips

cc: Vicki Mott, US. Department of the Interior

Client [Ram Realty]

Rafe Petersen, Holland & Knight

Church Roberts, Johnson Engineering, Inc.

Read the rest of this page »

Brasiella acuniae (Mutchler, 1924)

While thawing U.S. and Cuba relations are in the news here is a forgotten resident of Cuba: Brasiella acuniae (Mutchler, 1924); pictured is specimen from the Smithsonian’s entomological collections.


Andrew J. Mutchler, curator of the Coleoptera at the American Museum of Natural History at that time, described this species in 1924 from eleven specimens collected in the Camaguey Province of Cuba. The first, and most striking aspect of this species is its diminutive size. Mutchler noted male beetles varied from 5 to 5.5mm in length, while females measured 5.5 to 6mm!

This species is smaller than any which has heretofore been described from the West Indies. It approaches viridicollis in the general color of the head and thorax, but the labrum, which is squarely truncate in viridicollis, is pointed at the middle in acuniae; also the white markings on the elytra, when present, are differently located and the metallic markings in acuniae, especially along the subsutural region, are represented by a row of somewhat large foveae, whereas in viridicollis the metallic markings are of approximately the same size on the whole elytra. The color of the under surface is similar in both species.

On the habitat in which the specimens were collected:

The Camaguey or Puerto Principe Province, where the specimens were obtained, is an immense plain, interrupted in a slight degree by hills belonging to the groups of Cubitee and Najash, situated respectively north and south of the capital, the city of Camaguey, which is located approximately in the center of the province.

The specific epithet is a patronym honoring the collector Julian Acuna:

The specimens representing a new form of Cicindelidae were kindly sent to this Museum by Mr. Stephen J. Bruner, Chief of the Department of Pathology and Entomology of the Estacion Experimental Agronomica, located at Santiago de las Vegas, Havana Province, Cuba. In an accompanying leter he states that the material was collected in the Camaguey Province, by a former assistant, Julian Acuna.

The American Museum of Natural History has a collection entry with an image of a type specimen and the full species description is available online through the AMNH.

Brasiella acuniae

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:

Rams Reality 2

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:

Ram Site pie chart web

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.

RAM site 1938 1952 and 2014

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


 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.

Proposed theme park “not located in an ideal location for tourism”

In an undergraduate thesis entitled “Zoo Miami Entertainment Area: Revitalization Through User Experience” University of Florida student Emilio Fuster laid out plans for a potential theme park adjoining Zoo Miami. However, he noted that there are several constraints this location, chiefly:

Despite its prestige, the site is not located in an ideal location for tourism. The main attractions of Miami (for the most part) all lie to the north, concentrated around Miami Beach. The immediate area is almost exclusively residential. Almost immediately surrounding the residential areas are large expanses of agricultural land with Homestead to the south being a large agricultural hub.

Overall the Zoo is not in an ideal location for tourism. Its location in proximity to other prominent areas of Miami and other attractions is quite remote. The area is also not a typical urban/pedestrian friendly one. Connections to the site are almost primarily vehicular. This severly (sic) limits connectability. Adding to this, the land uses of the areas do not add to its draw. Primarily residential, there is nothing but the Zoo and GCRM attracting visitors to the region.

As Fuster points out a theme park in this area, like 20th Century Fox’s Miami Wilds, would not be in close proximity to Miami’s main attractions – this will likely become a major issue for attendance.

Further compounding any development plans is the fact that the site is home to pine rocklands, a globally imperiled habitat, and the site is in an almost exclusively residential area. In the re-zoning, sale/transfer of land, and planning of Miami Wilds (and Coral Reef Commons) the public, especially the neighboring residents,  were not – and still are not – included in the county’s and developers’ actions. This level of secrecy is unacceptable, particularly since the site of the development is home to pine rocklands and the planned development will be severely detrimental to the daily lives of the nearby residents.

Link to Fuster’s full thesis here

Once altered = gone forever?

With efforts to develop globally imperiled pine rocklands met with a public outcry, Ram Realty, developers of the planned Coral Reef Commons, have attempted to portray the Coral Reef Commons (CRC) pine rocklands as largely developed. While this is not true (only 12% of the CRC site is significantly developed), what happens when pine rocklands are altered? Is the site really no longer a place worth preserving as Ram suggests?


In the image above is one of the best maintained Richmond Heights pine rockland tracts, covering over 60 acres. Today it sits just outside of Zoo Miami (and in the footprint of Miami Wilds!) but in the 1940’s it was the site of Richmond Naval Air Station. Below in an image form 1952 you can see the expansive footprint of Richmond NAS.

N portion of Zoo Mimai finish0001

In this side-by-side view you can see the remnants of the blimp mooring pads and the red outline of this 60+ acre tract of rocklands in 1952 and in 2014. What today is a beautiful forest was tarmac, bare earth, and grass back in the 1950s. This land was originally pine rocklands but was cleared (in the early 1940s) to make way for the naval air station. But with the decommissioning of the Richmond NAS and subsequent period of unhindered growth (and semi-regular wildfires/prescribed burns) it is again beautiful pine rocklands. Most importantly this site is home of the rare Miami tiger beetle, a candidate for state and federal protection, along with numerous other endemic and rare animal and plants.

1952 vs 2014

The only visible remnants of the site’s past is a crumbling asphalt roadway cutting through a portion of the rocklands.


As you can see even pine rockland tracts which have been altered are excellent candidates for restoration and seriously in need of protection. This need is even more urgent for the remaining intact Richmond Heights pine rocklands, which sit in the footprints of Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wilds. Ram Realty and 20th Century Fox developers are still pushing forward on their Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wilds, respectively, and Miami-Dade county is trying to circumvent any environmental regulations protecting or pertaining to these pine rocklands by attempting to declare a massive swath of land around Zoo Miami as a “slum or blighted area.” These developments are both environmentally unacceptable and poorly planned, with no adequate measures taken to address the pine rocklands.