Late last week, a federal judge denied the National Park Service's request to dismiss a case brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians to reduce damaging off-road vehicle use in Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve.
The suit asserts the Park Service violated the Endangered Species Act, its own off-road vehicle management plan, the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws by designating hundreds of miles of new trails for off-road vehicle use in the preserve without first assessing potentially destructive impacts on endangered Florida panthers and other rare and vanishing Florida species, as well as other sensitive water, soil and vegetative resources.
The ruling denied the government's request to dismiss or delay the case, finding that the Park Service had not yet complied with the law. The court admonished the Park Service for making a "determination about opening the . . . trails before performing any NEPA analysis and now offer[ing] to follow [with] NEPA after the fact," and found that "NPS left the Preserve open to potential damaging impact[s]" by failing to adhere to its legal duties.
"This ruling should be the death knell for the Park Service's mismanagement of this public resource," said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Park Service's mission is to manage these wild areas for wildlife and plants as well as people."
"The National Park Service should heed Judge Chappell's ruling by sticking to its mandate to preserve the natural landscape at Big Cypress and the endangered wildlife it shelters," said Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club's senior organizing manager.
"The endangered Florida panther, a symbol of Florida's original wildness, has an enormous number of threats to navigate in South Florida. This decision, hopefully, will ensure that national park mismanagement of off-road vehicle recreation isn't one of those threats," said Sarah Peters, a program attorney with WildEarth Guardians.