With the December 2015 announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) of proposed “endangered” status for the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindelidia floridana), a “hearing for members of the general public to comment on that proposal in person” was scheduled, as required by Section 4(b)(5) of the Endangered Species Act. This public hearing was held on January 13, 2016 at Miami-Dade College’s Kendall campus and I flew in from Arizona to attend. To listen to audio from the hearing click here or keep reading for my photos and some brief comments.
Shortly after 5pm I made my way across Miami-Dade College’s Kendall campus to their main auditorium. As I approached the auditorium entrance I saw half a dozen law enforcement officers monitoring the proceeding; two officers at a sign-in table next to the entrance, two at table on the opposite side, and, in between, two at the auditorium doors. Even inside the auditorium there was a USFWS Refuge officer at each entrance, further reinforcing the seriousness of this federal hearing.
Even through I was early there were over twenty people already present, both members of the public and Miami-Dade college students. As I waited for the start of the hearing I chatted with the USFWS officials present and picked up copies of their Miami tiger beetle factsheet and FAQ.
Prominently displayed were two posters depicting the historical and current (only 1.8% remains) pine rocklands in Miami-Dade county and the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, the primary habitat for the Miami tiger beetle. At a glance it is clear the drastic, almost complete, loss of pine rocklands within Miami-Dade county:
The hearing began with an informative presentation on the beetle and then the public comment period began. Among those speaking were myself, the lobbyist/head of Miami Wilds LLC, Paul Lambert, concerned citizens, and members of the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition. I’ve included selected audio from the hearing below:
I will respond to Mr. Lambert/Miami Wild’s concerns and the ecologist’s comments in a second post. Additionally I’ll post my full comments to the Service in a separate post.
Please don’t forget the public comment period on USFWS’s proposal to list the Miami tiger beetle as endangered is still open (until February 22, 2016). To submit a comment to the Service go to the official site and click comment now.
I’d like to extend special thanks to Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition Vice-President Belén Valladares for providing transportation and lodging during my trip.
Frank Ridgley at Zoo Miami has some fantastic video of the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindela floridana); check out this exquisite little species in action:
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.
On January 17th hundreds of people marched along Coral Reef Drive, outside Zoo Miami, to support the preservation of the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, the habitat of numerous endemic species including the rare Miami tiger beetle. The Miami Herald reports the group of demonstrators stretched out “at least four blocks” in and around Zoo Miami, near the sites of proposed developments threatening the habitat.
Large portions of these pine rocklands are the sites for Coral Reef Commons, a WalMart-anchored shopping center and apartment complex proposed by Ram Realty, and Miami Wilds, a major amusement park which has been pushed through by Commissioner Dennis Moss and backed by 20th Century Fox.
These pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the since early logging and military developments on the site in the 1940s and these lands represent a quarter of the 1.8% of the 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.
Ram Realty responded to the growing public disapproval in a statement and video tour of the site release the day before the march. I have reproduced their statement below along with my notes:
Efforts to “save” the rocklands are based on a misunderstanding of the true conditions on site
Editors Note: View and download a virtual tour of the Coral Reef Commons site:
Miami, FL – January 16, 2015
Ram Realty Services is dedicated to the restoration of a significant portion of the land that we own.
It should be noted that the Richmond Pine Rockland complex encompasses more than four square miles, of which 74 percent is under public ownership, with an additional 20 percent long ago developed by others.
Purposely deceptive. The former Richmond Naval Air Station covered 2,107 acres (3.29 square miles). Today this area is the site of Zoo Miami, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, the University of Miami south campus, a U.S. Coast Guard base, and several smaller developments. There is only about one square mile of pine rocklands remaining in the whole site.
Environmentalists opposing the development of the site have continuously misunderstood the facts and the current condition of the property.
I’ve spent significant time conducting research in the Richmond Heights pine rocklands and Ram’s claims are not an honest representation of the site. Presently 47% of the Coral Reef Common (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.
The Coral Reef Commons development site represents less than three percent of the Richmond Pine Rockland complex, and even less of the total pine rocklands in Miami-Dade County.
Again purposely deceptive. Their figure of 3% is calculated from the total area of the site, not from the area of pine rocklands on the site. There are a total of 585 acres of rocklands on the former Richmond Naval air station out of which 65 acres (11%) sits on the CRC site.
The notion that the Coral Reef Commons site is a pristine forest is erroneous.
The Coral Reef Commons site is primarily (47%) pine rocklands. While not in pristine condition these rocklands have been minimally altered and represent a last chance to preserve this habitat. Out of the original pine rocklands only 1.8% is still standing outside of the Everglades National Park.
Over the last 70 years the site has been used for military purposes, a medical research facility, commercial buildings, residential buildings, enclosures for animals, an incinerator and blimp bays.
This site does have a unique past (see Paul Freeman’s great webpage and this history of the Naval Air Station) but these developments only comprise 12% of the CRC site (the blimp bays were located just to the south and east of Ram’s property, largely where the Gold Coast Railroad Museum now stands). Today the greatest threat to the area is continued development and the encroachment of invasive species. The present poor condition of these CRC site is due to the lack of any habitat management by the University of Miami, not excessive development. The school even denied requests from myself and other researchers to this and their other properties around Zoo Miami for access to the habitat.
The best prospect for regaining the natural environment is a comprehensive restoration plan such as the one Ram Realty Services is developing with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under this plan, almost 40 percent of our property will be restored to its natural native state, set aside and maintained as a natural preserve in perpetuity – a standard never previously achieved in the region.
The 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 solution is not to develop over two-thirds of the site and its pine rocklands. Under one-eighth of the CRC site has been developed. Perhaps there is a more appropriate use for this rare habitat than yet another Walmart. 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.