- March 20 - A federal court granted environmental, conservation, wildlife and animal protection groups the right to defend the fragile and biologically rich Big Cypress National Preserve from continued devastation caused by extensive ORV use. The groups' motion to intervene was granted yesterday by a federal magistrate judge in a lawsuit brought by ORV users and national hunting interests against the National Park Service. The lawsuit is currently pending in the federal district court for the middle district of Florida, Ft. Myers division.
After almost three decades of rampant, unrestrained ORV use, the Preserve, an expansive area about the size of Rhode Island and some of the last undeveloped habitat for the critically endangered Florida panther, has enough miles of ORV trails to circle the planet. The National Park Service has called the area the worst example of overuse in the National Park System.
Nonetheless, ORV users are complaining that new rules issued last year by the Clinton Administration unlawfully restrict ORVs in the Preserve. Environmentalists disagree -- "these rules constitute the bare minimum of what is necessary to protect Big Cypress from the ugly, destructive gouges, the miles of deep ruts, and the denuded areas left in the wake of recreational ORV use," explained Brian Scherf of the Florida Biodiversity Project (FBP).
The new rules are also the result of a settlement agreement reached in 1995 by the National Park Service and the FBP. Under the 1995 agreement, the National Park Service agreed to establish a comprehensive system for ORV management in Big Cypress to assure its natural and ecological integrity. The new rules are the National Park Service's attempt to meet its commitment under that agreement.
"These long-overdue restrictions are a major early test for how the Bush Administration will manage the National Park System as a personal playground for the few, or as public lands to be conserved for future generations," said Eric Glitzenstein, attorney for the intervenors.
Bluewater Network used this decision to renew its call that the Department of Interior implement common sense measures to rein in ORV destruction throughout the park system. "Off-road vehicles such as dirtbikes are causing significant damage to our National Parks' resources and wildlife," said Sean Smith, Public Lands Director for Bluewater Network and a former National Park Ranger. "It's outrageous that Interior Secretary Gale Norton appears to be focusing her energies on rolling back the broadly supported environmental gains of the last several years, rather than on preventing our national heritage from becoming motorized amusement parks."
The coalition of environmental intervenors include the Florida Biodiversity Project, the American Lands Alliance, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Bluewater Network, Defenders of Wildlife, the Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads, and the Wilderness Society. They are represented by Meyer & Glitzenstein, a public-interest law firm in Washington, D.C.