Suit was filed Wednesday against Collier County. The lead plaintiffs are listed as "Florida panthers" and "red-cockaded woodpeckers."
The lawsuit was sparked by a warning sent last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to Collier County officials informing them that their recent settlement agreement with HHH Ranch "may have violated" the Federal Endangered Species Act. The letter went on to state, "The activities the county has approved . . . could result in the take of federally protected species, and the county could be liable for violating federal law."
USFWS' warning was aimed at protecting Florida panthers and red-cockaded woodpeckers, two species on the endangered species list that have been found on the 1,100-acre HHH Ranch near Naples, Florida.
The USFWS letter also noted that the owners of the ranch have been allowed by Collier County to clear land, cut timber, extend a road and push ahead with plans for a rock mine despite a local land use rule which bans mining and limits development in North Belle Meade. That particular rule was emplaced in 2002 to better protect the aquifer and wildlife habitat.
HHH Ranch's attorney called USFWS' letter "a scare tactic" based on one-sided information. He claims that the ranch's landowners have repeatedly consulted with biologists on how to avoid harming panthers or woodpeckers.
Co-plaintiffs in the suit include the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Collier County Audubon Society.