MIAMI— Conservation groups notified the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today that they intend to sue the agencies for failing to protect the federally endangered Florida bonneted bat, Miami tiger beetle, Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and other imperiled species from the destructive effects of the Miami Wilds water park and retail development in south Florida.
The Florida bonneted bat heavily uses the proposed development site as a key foraging area. The project footprint also includes critical habitat for Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing, two endangered butterflies, and proposed critical habitat for the endangered Miami tiger beetle. Rare plants like Florida brickell-bush and Carter’s small-flowered flax are also present around the site.
In February the Park Service signed off on an agreement to release land-use restrictions on the site of the proposed project, paving the way for construction to proceed. In doing so, the agency failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure the development will not jeopardize endangered species or destroy critical habitat — a key step required by the Endangered Species Act.
“It’s shocking that the Park Service plowed ahead knowing the project is likely to hurt endangered species like the Florida bonneted bat,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director and an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency has a legal duty to ensure its actions won’t drive species toward extinction, and it has to do this before taking action. This is a critical failure.”
Miami Wilds plans to build a 27.5-acre water park, retail area, hotel and more than 40 acres of associated parking lots. Miami-Dade County approved a lease agreement for the Miami Wilds site on June 22, 2022.
“This bat-killing project risks the permanent, irreversible extinction of one of the most endangered mammals in the United States,” said Mike Daulton, executive director at Bat Conservation International. “The habitat in and around Zoo Miami supports the second-largest known population of the highly endangered Florida bonneted bat. Destruction of this vital habitat would be devastating.”
“Unfortunately, the failure of the Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to follow their own rules continues to jeopardize the viability of many endangered species, including the most highly endangered bat in North America,” said Dennis Olle, president of the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.
“The Endangered Species Act is a powerful tool to protect wildlife and their habitat. Its purpose is broad, and encompasses protecting biodiversity by preventing the extinction of plants and animals,” said Tropical Audubon Society Senior Conservation Director Lauren Jonaitis. “The Park Service’s failure to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service is a glaring oversight that needs to be remedied. This required step must be taken, otherwise the development could put endangered species at risk of extinction.”
In addition to impacting endangered species, the development also threatens critically imperiled pine rockland habitat on and surrounding the site by hampering natural fire needed to support ecosystem health. Pine rocklands are home to dozens of rare and endangered animals, plants and insects found nowhere else on Earth.
Today’s notice was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Bat Conservation International, Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association, and Tropical Audubon Society.
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