• If you log in, the ads disappear in the forum and gallery. If you need help logging in or getting registered, send request to: webmaster@southernairboat.com

Hunters, environmentalists on collision course in Big Cypres


Well-known member
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/ ... -headlines

Hunters, environmentalists on collision course in Big Cypress

Under pressure from hunters, preserve reopens trails to off-road vehicles in panther territory

By David Fleshler
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted March 11 2007

Cutting through the forests and prairies of Big Cypress National Preserve, a network of swamp buggy trails threatens to reopen a bitter legal fight over off-road vehicles, panthers and the human impact on wilderness.

As hunters cleaned their guns in preparation for the opening of turkey season earlier this month, the preserve announced it would reopen trails that had been closed to vehicles to protect panthers.


The decision was a victory for hunters who say they need the rugged machines to penetrate the preserve's swamps and forests. Environmentalists, who had successfully sued for limits on these vehicles, said Big Cypress's managers were too eager to accommodate the vocal hunting community. They accused the preserve of reneging on obligations imposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the impact of hunting and off-road vehicles on panthers before reopening the trails.

"The whole area north of I-75 has probably the greatest concentration of Florida panthers left," said Matthew Schwartz, political chairman of the Sierra Club of Broward County. "Those trails were specifically closed to protect the panther."

The preserve, which straddles Interstate 75 just west of the Broward County line, encompasses cypress stands, slash pine forests and wet prairies that are home to black bears, red-cockaded woodpeckers and other threatened species. Dotted with hunting camps, it's one of the last havens of old Florida outdoors culture, where people get around on buggies assembled from auto parts and tractor tires, hunt deer, turkey and hogs, and escape -- if only for a weekend -- the harsh modern Florida of subdivisions, big-box stores and traffic jams.

Lyle McCandless, a LaBelle deer hunter who is president of the Big Cypress Sportmen's Alliance, said the decision allows hunters to resume some of their historic and traditional activities in parts of the preserve they couldn't reach without the trails.

"We feel real strongly about those trails being closed illegally a few years ago," he said. "They were closed without due process. They were closed without it being scientifically established that they should be closed."

He said he doubted hunters or off-road vehicles did any harm to panthers, noting -- in an example frequently cited by hunters and backed up by biologists -- that a panther was documented to have raised cubs within a few dozen yards of an off-road vehicle trail during hunting season.

"The panther is just a lame excuse," he said.

The 22 miles of reopened trails cut through the preserve's Bear Island section, a relatively dry, forested area popular with hunters and panthers alike. A hunter check-in station, staffed by a state game officer, stands at the end of a turnoff from rugged, pitted Turner River Road. Of the 80 or 90 panthers known to inhabit the southern Florida wilderness, an estimated four to six adult panthers use Bear Island, which is rich in deer, their favored prey.

A 1999 study found that panther use of Bear Island declined by 30 percent to 40 percent during hunting season. No one knows whether this was because panthers wanted to avoid the noise and activity of swamp buggies and hunting camps, or whether it was the deer that were fleeing and the panthers were just following their prey.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service required the preserve to conduct studies on the impact of off-road vehicles and hunting on panthers, as a condition of creating its trail system. The preserve has not done this.

Karen Gustin, the preserve's superintendent, acknowledged the requirement to conduct the studies and said the preserve was working on getting funding for them. But she said there was no requirement to conduct them prior to reopening the trails.

By opening the trails, she said, the preserve is simply implementing its off-road vehicle management plan, which is intended to provide trails to replace the dispersed riding that had been damaging Big Cypress.

But Jane Tutton, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who wrote the biological opinion requiring the studies, said it was implied that the studies would be done before any changes in the Bear Island trails. The Fish and Wildlife Service, however, issued a memo last month approving the decision to reopen them. Tutton said that was to accommodate a request from "our sister agency."

Brian Scherf, director of the Florida Biodiversity Project, which sued to limit off-road vehicles, said his group was considering returning to court because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems to be letting the park service out of its obligations.

"These studies are supposed to help them decide where to build trails, what areas to avoid," he said. "And here they're putting in the trails, and they're going to do the studies at some point in the future -- if ever.

Forum / comments on article
http://www.topix.net/forum/source/south ... AV6B3P5MP5

David Fleshler can be reached at dfleshler@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4535

Good find. I hunted there for 9 years, (Bear Island). Curdog knows the area and I think Geneva might have even hunted there. Bunch of crap about the panthers, ask my son who while on my buggy got 50 yards from them without "spooking" them!
Also, bunch of crap about the dozens of hunting camps they ran most folks out when they closed the trails and burned the camps down to the ground! Had a friend that had one of the last ramaining camps off of Turner River unit.

The Fla. Biodiversity group is/was 4 people with the main turd being a rich kid! Aint' it amazing what money will do :cry:

We all know the claim that hunting, buggies ,huntin camps and people in general some how have an adverse affect on panthers is bull ! Ask the residents of Pinecrest ( on the loop) if mama and her 2 kittens ever left the area.

Buggy restrictions is all about anti hunting .
The greater the restrictions the fewer will be willing to venture .
Its not easy/possible to haul a few days worth of food ,ice, gear etc several miles in the swamp on foot .
Everybody I know who as "adapted "to hunting close to the roads where vehicles are now prohibited walk no further than 2 miles with 1 mile being the average .
Why only a mile on the average ? ..You can only walk as far as your willing to drag your deer or hog . Oh disregard the mention of a hog , cats have wiped them out.

The last time i help a guy drag a deer drag deer 1.5 miles I thought we were both going die out there with the 90 degree October heat. Almost failed to mentioned the park services' 1 mile buffer on both sides of US 41 where no vehicles are allowed , love the government working against us.

Brian Scherf, director of the Florida Biodiversity Project, is in bed with the park service . Right now we are going thru a good cop phase with the park service and what'll happen is they'll get sued again for failing to protect the resources and we'll have an additional EIS or other form of researh as a result .
More research more stalling ...

Look at the addition lands , been over 15 years of BS and more recently public comments with the result of 4 or 5 however many models to choose from ..

Enough for one night.