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Sun Sentinel, September 26, 2014

Big Cypress closes some off-road vehicle trails
By David Fleshler

Big Cypress National Preserve has agreed to keep its network of secondary trails closed to swamp buggies and other off-road vehicles in order to evaluate their environmental impact, in the latest round in the fights over access to the vast wilderness that straddles Alligator Alley.

The announcement was part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians and the South Florida  Wildlands Association.

"Our hope is that this agreement has permanently stopped the unchecked expansion of damaging [off road vehicles] in Big Cypress Preserve," said Jaclyn Lopez, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "At a minimum, it will halt these damaging activities until the completion of a full assessment of their impacts on Florida panthers and other endangered wildlife, as well as sensitive waterways and the wild character of this irreplaceable natural gem."

Hunters say the vehicles, which are often homemade assemblages of auto parts and tractor tires, are essential for penetrating remote areas of the swampy preserve,

Although this decision is a defeat  for hunters, they won a significant victory last week in a legal fight over trails in a separate part of the preserve called the Addition Lands. Added to Big Cypress in 1988, the 147,000-acre area is expected to soon be opened up to hunting.

Environmental groups had filed suit to stop the National Park Service from opening up 130 miles of trails to motorized vehicles, but lost when a federal judge in Fort Myers ruled in favor of the park service.

Big Cypress Superintendent Pedro Ramos said the preserve will evaluate the environmental impact of trails throughout the preserve.

"My expectation is that the outcome of the analysis will help to permanently define secondary trail locations in both the Addition Lands and the original preserve, in a manner that will balance preservation and traditional access into the preserve as our legislation directs us to," he said.

 

© 2014 Sun Sentinel.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton