In the Walton family’s ongoing effort to apparently put a Walmart on every single inch of undeveloped land, a new store is going up in southern Florida on what is one of Miami-Dade County’s last remaining tract of endangered pine rockland.
Earlier this month, the University of Miami sold the almost 90-acre piece of land, habitat to several endangered species like the bald eagle and indigo snake, to a Palm Beach County developer, Ram. In addition to the WalMart, Ram plans to build an LA Fitness, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, and around 900 apartments.
“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, who wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent Friday demanding an investigation.
The university said in a statement that it is committed to protecting the forests — only about 2,900 acres of rockland are left outside Everglades National Park — and helped execute plans for the preserve, but would not respond to questions.
Ram, which has built dozens of strip shopping centers and dense residential projects across Florida and the Southeast, chose the land at Coral Reef Drive and Southwest 127th Avenue because it provided a “unique chance to create . . . a place where people can easily walk from the neighborhood to shops and elsewhere,” CEO Casey Cummings said in a written response to questions.
A plan to develop the land emerged in 2003 when the university suggested creating an academic village. Despite realizing the environmental importance of the area–there is less than two percent of pine rockland left–county biologist Tim Joyner was the only one working the forest division at the time. The 138 tract that UM was looking at was more than he could handle alone, and the county signed off on a private survey.
“I agree more could have been preserved. But what they preserved complied with the code,” Joyner said. “And that was a big selling point. [UM was] not managing the land, and we had no way to get them to manage the land.”
The county does require landowners to allow biologists to rescue plants before development begins. Since the rescue efforts began last month, biologists have already found one species of endangered plant, polygala smallii, and two rare species of butterflies, the Bartram’s hairstreak, which is expected to be added to the endangered species list later this summer, and the Atala hairstreak, which nearly went extinct in the mid-1900s.
Federal officials are monitoring the project, but are limited in what they can do. Habitat for these endangered species can only be protected if federal money or land is involved, and neither is in this case.
According to US Fish and Wildlife biologist Mark Salvato, restoring more of the Walmart land is possible and wouldn’t be difficult.
“A goodly portion of that site could probably be restored given the opportunity,” he said. “We’re going to have a bona fide [endangered] species there. And if the project were taking place a few years from now, it would be open and shut. We’ve got people photographing Bartram’s hairstreak on the very terra firm they’re going to bulldoze.”
Florida, one of the most biologically diverse states in the country, has not done much in the way of conservation of its native species. The Herald reports only 23 percent of native species are considered safe.
The development of what should be federally protected land, along with Florida’s elected leaders denying climate change, are going to lead to the destruction of the state and its wildlife– all for the sake of making a quick buck.