The Awful Reason Florida Is Bulldozing One of the World’s Rarest Forests

A developer plans to build apartments and a Walmart the size of three football fields.
(Photo: Pat Canova/Getty Images)
Jul 12, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

The lush tropical canopies of pine rocklands exist only in South Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas. But soon the Sunshine State will lose some of its remaining tracts of the imperiled ecosystem in Miami-Dade County, expelling wildlife and rare flora to make room for a new tenant: Walmart.

This month the University of Miami sold 88 acres of rockland to Ram, a Palm Beach County–based developer known for building strip malls and residential complexes. The Miami Herald reports that the company has allotted space for 900 apartments and 185,000 square feet for a Walmart, in addition to a Chick-fil-A, a Chili’s, and a fitness center.

Before the sale, the university and the developer agreed to preserve 40 acres of rockland. For environmentalists, it’s not nearly enough.

“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how,” Dennis Olle, a lawyer and a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, told The Miami Herald. “This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM.”

“County officials say they...are hamstrung by an ordinance that allows them to require forest protection only when the land is developed,” the paper reports. Meanwhile, scientists and wildlife organizations have been collecting and saving plants before the project gets started as part of an ordinance to preserve forestlands. They found troves of rare plants and butterflies.

“There was so much material there that we had to kind of prioritize,” field biologist Jennifer Possley told the paper.

Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association have called for an investigation. According to federal officials, they’re keeping an eye on the development.

“Our listed plants are very rare, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that so little habitat remains. So we certainly place a great value on these species’ conservation,” said Craig W. Aubrey, a field advisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Only 2 percent of South Florida’s once vast savanna survives. According to CEO Casey Cummings, Ram selected the land because it presented a “unique chance to create...a place where people can easily walk from the neighborhood to shops and elsewhere.”