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.
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.
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.
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.
[The Committee] accepts the Study identifying approximately 2,146 acres within the unincorporated municipal service area (UMSA), which lie entirely in Commission District 9 represented by Commissioner Dennis C. Moss, to be slum and blighted.
Miami-Dade Legislative Item 142509
This month a Miami-Dade county committee approved a resolution from county commissioner Dennis Moss to designate the Richmond Heights pine rocklands (the largest fragement of pine rocklands outside the Everglades National Park and the only habitat of the Miami tiger beetle) along with the surrounding lands “a slum or blighted area.” This resolution stemmed from a county-commitioned study supplied by the firm Calvin, Giordano & Associates which built a tenuous case that slum or blight conditions exist in and around the Richmond Heights pine rocklands. The Committee forwarded the resolution to the full Board of County Commissioners for consideration:
It is recommended that the Board of County Commissioners … consider taking the following actions:
4. The Board declares and finds that there is a need for a community redevelopment agency to function and carry out the community redevelopment purposes of the Act; and
5. The Board directs the County Mayor or the County Mayor’s designee to prepare a plan of redevelopment for the Area, and to submit the plan of redevelopment to the Board for approval after notice and public hearing.
Should a community redevelopment agency be created, the Area covered will make it the second largest in the County, with only the North Miami Community Redevelopment Agency larger at 3,540 acres. The Study includes the Zoo Miami, Coast Guard, and the former University of Miami properties.
Miami-Dade Legislative Item 142509
The goal in establishing the existence of slum or blight conditions and subsequent community redevelopment agency (CRA) is to create a special tax district¹ which will channel public funds into development of the site. The development in question is the $930 million theme park, Miami Wilds. As I have written previously the construction of this theme park (in its present incarnation) is a serious and unacceptable threat to the Richmond Heights pine rocklands and the survival of numerous endangered species, including the Miami tiger beetle, a candidate for emergency state and federal protection.
The developers, Miami Wilds LLC, have already received approval for an initial $13.5 million in bond funds to replicate the US Coast Guard communications tower array which currently stands in the footprint of the theme park. However, use of this land requires Federal permission and approval of the developer’s plans; approval which has not yet been given.
The Richmond Heights pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the since the early development of the site in the 1940s and these lands represent a major portion of the 1.8% of pine rocklands left outside the Everglades National Park. Any further development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands, chiefly by fragmenting the remaining habitat and stifling fires, a necessary ecological cycle for the continued health of the habitats.
Proper management of pine rockland fragments includes prescribed burning (which can generate heavy amounts of smoke)… Construction of hospitals, schools, apartments, and hotels around [rocklands] should be discouraged because of conflicts with smoke generation during prescribed fires. URS Corporation et al 2007
These current plans for Miami Wilds and Coral Reef Commons will severely fragment the remaining Richmond Heights pine rocklands. Once these rocklands are surrounded by heavy development any prescribed burning will be extraordinarily unlikely.
… maximize open space and limit pollution runoff [around rocklands]. URS Corporation et al 2007
A secondary impact of any development is that without sufficient buffer areas around the rocklands the new fragments will be highly susceptible to pollution and encroachment of non-native and invasive animals and plants from the surrounding.
The current plans for development do not adequately conserve these imperiled rocklands and are not a reasonable option for the continued survival of this unique habitat and its inhabitants. Over 98% of the Miami-Dade rocklands have been lost to development. There are better options for utilization of the non-rockland areas, options which do not fragment or destroy rocklands, alternatives which provide adequate buffers to facilitate the necessary management of the habitat.
The “blight” resolution has been forwarded to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration and a full public hearing on January 21st.
Local residents are planning a rally for the rocklands on January 17th
The Center for Biological Diversity has a letter to the Miami Board of County Commissioners which you can sign and send in support of preserving the pine rocklands.
Also see the Miami Herald article on the this latest development.
¹In designating an area as a CRA governing bodies are afforded the opportunity to leverage public financing for the purpose of land acquisition, demolition, housing and infrastructure improvements, environmental remediation, neighborhood enhancement and other similar activities. This is accomplished through a funding mechanism known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF). From MetroZoo Finding of Necessity Study 2014 Update
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.
Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed emergency petitions to protect the exceedingly rare Miami tiger beetle, Cicindela floridana, a South Florida pine rocklands endemic, as a protected species under Florida law and as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Pine rocklands once stretched from the Florida Keys up to the northern edge of Miami-Dade County, but widespread urbanization and agricultural development destroyed the majority of Floridian pine rockland. This fire-dependent community, found on limestone outcroppings, is comprised of a sparse canopy dominated by Florida slash pine, Pinus elliotti var. densa, and a varied understory. Today, only a fraction of the original Miami pine rockland habitat remains; by some estimates as little as 1.8%. Moreover, most of these remaining areas are quite small and often widely separated by miles of heavy development.
The pine rockland habitats are home to many endemic species, many of which are listed as endangered including the Florida Bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), Bartram’s hairstreak (Strymon acis bartrami), Florida leafwing (Anaea troglodyta floridalis), Florida brickell-bush (Brickellia mosieri), deltoid spurge (Chamaesyce deltoidea deltoidea), Carter’s small-flowered flax (Linum carteri carteri), tiny polygala (Polygala smallii).
Today many of these remaining pine rocklands and their inhabitants now face another danger; due to the lack of fire, both native and non-native vegetation are taking over the habitats which incrementally transitioning to hardwood hammocks.
Of greatest concern is the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, where the Miami tiger beetle was rediscovered in 2007. In addition to vegetation encroachment, there are plans to develop significant portions of the pinelands. The first, and most immediate, is Ram Realty’s plan to develop and 88-acre parcel of rocklands purchased from the University of Miami.
While Ram has set aside some of the land for nature preserves, any development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands by fragmenting the remaining habitat and stifling fires, a necessity for the continued health of the habitats. The second, and most expansive in scope, is the county’s plan to develop a major amusement park in and around the rocklands.
This plan calls for major development including a four lane highway and major transportation corridor through the rocklands. This development will irrevocably damage all of the Richmond pine rocklands, through fragmentation, pollution, and stifling fires within the remaining habitat.
Both development pose real and immediate risks to endangered and rare species, including the Miami tiger beetle. These developments will results in the destruction and degradation of pine rocklands and will kill endangered and candidate species including the adults and larvae of the Miami tiger beetle.
Even before the current plans for development the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindela floridana) was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service species of concern. Additionally, Knisley et al (2014) assigned the Miami tiger beetle a 1+ grade, their “highest level of rarity and/or threats” in a comprehensive review of the conservation status of United States tiger beetles. With over 98% of the potential former habitat gone and direct threats to the only remaining habitat this species is in need of urgent action to prevent its extinction.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s press release is available at their website.
Knisley, C., M. Kippenhan, and D. Brzoska. 2014. Conservation status of United States tiger beetles. Terrestrial Arthropod Reviews. 7: 93-145.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan: Appendix C. Species of Concern and their Associated Community Types in South Florida.
Readers of this blog may be familiar with the story of Cicindela floridana, a beautifully iridescent tiger beetle presumed extinct but rediscovered in 2007. This beetle is only known from pine rocklands, a habitat once common in southern Florida but only 1.8% of the original rocklands remain today (outside of the Everglades National Park).
Frank N. Young Jr. collected this species while he was an 18 year old student and gives only vague locality information on his labels. In the rediscovery paper Brzoska, Knisley, and Slotten note that:
The exact type locality for var. floridana is problematic. Cartwright (1939) gives the locality as Miami, Florida based on Young’s label. In the 1980s, R. L. Huber, in an attempt to locate this form contacted Young who told him the specimens were collected in the vicinity of Gratigny Road while he was studying land snails in the sandy hammocks. …. Knisley also contacted Young in the early 1990s and learned that the specimens were taken in the vicinity of Barry [University].
My curiosity piqued, I combed through Frank Young’s publications and found a 1951 paper “Vanishing and extinct colonies of tree snails, Liguus fasciatus, in the vicinity of Miami, Florida.” In this paper Young includes a map of his study sites, which are tantalizingly close to Gratigny Road and Barry University (located south of Gratigny St. and Miami Ave). If there is a connection between Young’s early snail hunting and this 1951 paper and we might be able to pinpoint the type locality of C. floridana.
Further on Young writes:
The distribution of the hammocks around Arch Creek shows the same general pattern as those around New River to the north or Little River to the south. That is, the hammocks occur along the margins of the stream or its estuary, across the rocklands of the East Coast ridge, and fan out along the edges of the transverse glade. This pattern is apparently maintained by the nature of the soils and the periodic fires which sweep the bordering rocky pinelands and encroach upon the edges of the hammocks.
This paper suggests that the area around Gratigny Road and Barry University may have been pine rocklands and substantially narrows the potential area in which Young may have collected the type series in 1934. In this 1947 topographic map you can see that the area around (and north of) Gratigny Road and Barry University is slightly elevated from the surrounding, consistent with (but not necessarily indicative of) pine rocklands habitat.
Almost convinced, I searched the aerial photography of Florida collections at the University of Florida Digital Collections and found several index images which included my area of interest. I was unable to find any imagery taken earlier than 1940; however, even the 1940 photograph confirmed my hunch. In this image the land north and west of (what would become) Barry University and Gratigny Road there appears to a partially isolated stand of pines.
This location matches Young’s comments to Huber and Knisley; Gratigny Road runs through these pines which extend into what would become Barry University. But, even in the six years after Young collected the type series of C. floridana there appear to have been significant new development visible (including Barry University, founded in 1940) and the areas east and southeast of the canal are already heavily built up.
This fall I received a note from Knisley, forwarded from Huber, with an exciting message. Huber had found a detailed entry from his collecting notes; this gave an exact location for Young’s specimens:
30 May 1972, visited the intersection of Miami Ave and Gratigny Rd (=119th St). Frank Young said that he had taken floridana in the NE corner of that intersection.
Bingo! Here is the type locality of C. floridana in detail:
The next image (showing the area just north of Gratigny St.) is from 1947 and the pines appear to have been largely cut down and the area has been divided up into parcels. I find it unlikely that C. floridana would have occurred at the type locality in 1947, though perhaps to the west where there appear to still be some pines standing.
The development dramatically increases in 1949-50 and the whole area is largely housing by 1950. Any rocklands habitat that remained after this time was certainly too fragmented and poor quality to sustain a population of C. floridana.
Brzoska, D., C.B. Knisley, and J. Slotten. 2011. Rediscovery of Cicindela scabrosa floridana Cartwright and its elevation to species level. Insect Mundi 2011 162:1-7.
Young, F. N. 1951. Vanishing and extinct colonies of tree snails, Liguus fasciatus, in the vicinity of Miami, Florida. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan. 531: 21 p.