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Environmentalists Ask For Intervention To Preserve Rare Pine Rockland Forest In Southern Miami-Dade

Environmental activists and concerned citizens expressed outrage Thursday night over a planned development they say endangers a tract of rare pine rockland near Zoo Miami.

The critics say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should intervene because the developer’s habitat conservation plandoes not offer adequate protection to endangered and threatened species.

“The mitigation offered in the plan is woefully inadequate,” said Erin Clancy, conservation director for Tropical Audubon. “What’s really missing is more land.”

Pine rockland forest grows only in South Florida and parts of the Caribbean. In South Florida, it’s home to a number of rare and endangered plant, insect and animal species, including the Florida bonneted bat and the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly.

The development, called the Coral Reef Commons, would span 138 acres immediately south of Southwest 152nd Street and divided by  124th Avenue. It would include 289,000 square feet of retail space, 900 apartments, a school and parking.

The habitat conservation plan includes 55 acres of land set aside for conservation within the development and 51 acres outside of it. Critics say that’s not enough, especially since development and damage from Hurricane Andrew had already fragmented most of the original pine rockland, also known as pineland. 

“Wildlife doesn’t know about boundaries,” said Al Sunshine, president of the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition, which organized the meeting. “All you’re doing is further fragmenting a globally imperiled habitat, making it harder and harder for plants and animals to survive.”

Less than 2 percent of Miami-Dade County's original pine rockland remains outside of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.

Ram Realty Services did not respond to a phone call early Thursday afternoon requesting comment.

A public comment period on Ram's habitat conservation plan ends at 11:59 p.m. Monday. After that, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review the plan and decide whether to issue permits that would allow the development to go forward or request modifications.

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Deltoid spurge is one of at least two federally endangered plant species that grow in the Richmond Pine Rockland tract near Zoo Miami.
Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald
The Florida Channel
Deltoid spurge is one of at least two federally endangered plant species that grow in the Richmond Pine Rockland tract near Zoo Miami.

Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.