MIAMI – Federal officials say a developer building a Wal-Mart on a tract of disappearing forest between two national parks in South Florida should stop all work until a survey of endangered wildlife is completed.
The Miami Herald reports that in a letter sent to Ram Realty Services, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said at least eight threatened species, including the federally protected Florida bonneted bat and two endangered plants, could inhabit roughly 140 acres of pine rockland in Miami-Dade County.
Ram should first obtain a federal permit before proceeding with any work that could threaten protected species, said Craig Aubrey, a field supervisor for the wildlife service.
“We want to work with them to make sure there’s a project that balances the economic development with the needs of the species there,” Aubrey said. “It’s not just one species. There’s a lot of sensitive resources out there.”
Aubrey said federal wildlife officers are concerned that the project will damage critical habitat outside a 40-acre section set aside as a preserve.
Ram Chairman Peter Cummings said the company is reviewing the recommendations and plans to meet with wildlife officials.
“We will take no action that disturbs the natural environment before resolving the Service’s concerns,” Cummings said. “The environment will be a valuable asset for the community we plan to create.”
Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz said the company was dedicated to preservation, having “worked for nearly a decade on conservation efforts to protect priority lands across the country.”
Environmentalists expressed concerns about the development plans after the University of Miami this month sold an 88-acre tract of endangered pine rockland to Ram, a Palm Beach County developer planning a 185,000-square-foot Wal-Mart for the space, along with restaurants and 900 apartments. Ram agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.
The university said in a statement Thursday that it was committed to preserving natural resources and that it worked with the county to come up with a management plan for the 40-acre preserve.
Just a sliver remains of about 165,000 acres of pine rocklands that once stretched from Homestead to the Miami River. The rare rocklands occur in just two places in the world – Miami-Dade County and the Bahamas – and provide habitat for a host of animals, insects and plants found no place else on earth.
Information from: The Miami Herald, http://www.herald.com