The South Florida Rocklands are home to the only true tropical forest on the U.S. mainland. One of the world’s rarest forests, it’s home to at least 137 species of trees and shrubs. As a result of population growth and land clearing in Miami and the Florida Keys, only two percent of the original habitat remains. Now a section of that land is being used for development of a Walmart and a Chik-Fil-A.
Earlier this month, about 88 acres of this pine rockland was sold by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer, and it’s not just a Walmart and Chik-Fil-A that will call it home. The 158,000-square-foot Walmart will be joined by an LA Fitness center, a Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments.
There are more than 4,200 Walmart stores in the United States, and new ones continue to pop up regularly, adding to the list of more than 11,000 stores worldwide. The average size of a Walmart Supercenter is 181,000 square feet , a little bigger than the new Walmart planned on the rocklands.
While the developer and the University of Miama have agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve, environmentalists and biologists are concerned.
“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, told the Miami Herald. Olle has written to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent demanding an investigation.
“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,” Craig W. Aubrey, South Florida field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Miami Herald. “The butterflies that we’re evaluating are very rare, so any kind of loss to their population would certainly be concerning,” said Aubrey. The rockland provides habitat to several endangered species, including two rare butterflies that are expected to be protected this summer.
The development will only further exacerbate the fragmentation of the rockland. The largest section of Florida’s rockland exists in the Everglades, and is therefore protected, but most of the listed endangered species are found out of the park. Rockland that was previously connected has now been splintered into parcel, which makes each parcel a haven for native species. “That piece in particular is connected to one of the historically largest tracts remaining,” Sarah Martin, a biologist with the Institute for Regional Conservation, told ThinkProgress in reference to the 88 acres sold by the University of Miami. “So for them to start chipping away at it is kind of awful.”
Florida’s flora and fauna aren’t fairing well. As the Miami Herald reports, “according to a 2002 study by the Institute for Regional Conservation… only 23 percent of native plants are now considered safe. About 40 species grow only in the pine rocklands, which before developers arrived ran from Homestead north to the Miami River.”
If the development continues, those numbers are going to decrease even more. “Something needs to be done; otherwise, we have to accept that number is going to keep going down,” said Martin.
Photo Credit: Miguel Vieira