Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 22, 2014

Contact:  Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 490-9190,
Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club, (727) 824-8813 x 302,   
Sarah Peters, WildEarth Guardians, (541) 345-0299,
Matthew Schwartz, South Florida Wildlands Association, (954) 993-5351, 

Settlement Agreement Protects Endangered Florida Panthers by Halting Massive
Expansion of Trails for Off-road Vehicles in Big Cypress National Preserve

FORT MYERS, Fla.— Conservation groups reached a settlement today with the National Park Service to significantly curtail damaging off-road vehicle use in Big Cypress National Preserve, home to endangered Florida panthers and other rare species of animals and plants. The settlement requires the Park Service to close an extensive network of motorized secondary and user-created trails until it conducts an environmental analysis and to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to ensure endangered Florida panthers and other rare and vanishing Florida species are protected. The groups expect that many of the 146 miles of trails closed in response to their lawsuit will remain closed in perpetuity.

“Our hope is that this agreement has permanently stopped the unchecked expansion of damaging ORVs in Big Cypress Preserve,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida 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.”

“We are happy to finally reach a resolution that will close these illegal trails and have an immediate and positive effect on the invaluable resources and wildlife of Big Cypress, and look forward to working with the NPS as they move forward with ORV management efforts,” said Sarah Peters, a program attorney with WildEarth Guardians.

“This settlement returns Big Cypress to the resource-protective vision that NPS had when it issued the ORV Management Plan in 2000, and returns key safeguards to the Preserve’s unique hydrological, soil, vegetative, and wildlife resources,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of South Florida Wildlands Association.

This settlement comes after environmental organizations succeeded in several legal challenges against increased ORV use in the preserve. For example, in July 2012, a federal judge set aside the Park Service’s unauthorized increase in ORV trails in the preserve’s Bear Island Unit after ruling that the 30-fold expansion in trails violated environmental laws and the Park Service’s own ORV-management plan. In 2013 the organizations filed suit over similar violations concerning massive ORV expansion in two other units of the preserve (referred to as the Corn Dance and Turner River Units), where the Park Service had increased the miles of trails where ORVs may go.

The new settlement agreement resolves the latter lawsuit, with the Park Service closing all of the ORV trails disputed in the lawsuit and bringing the preserve’s ORV trail system back within the mileage limits adopted by the Park Service in its governing ORV-management plan, which was issued in 2000 and reached full implementation in 2011.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, South Florida Wildlands Association and WildEarth Guardians are represented by the Washington, D.C. public-interest environmental law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places.

South Florida Wildlands Association is a Florida nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of habitat and wilderness in the Greater Everglades.

WildEarth Guardians, with more than 43,000 members and supporters across the country, works to protect and restore wildlife, wild places, and wild rivers.

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