One Of World’s Most Endangered Forests Set To Be Demolished To Build Wal-Mart Supercenter


A pristine patch of Florida forest, the home to dozens of animals species that biologists say are found no where else on the planet, will be bulldozed to make room for a Wal-Mart shopping center.

The 88 acres of rockland was sold by the University of Miami to a developer working for Wal-Mart who plans to build the retail store as well as a Chick-fil-A and Chili’s restaurant. As a concession the firm says it will set aside around 40 acres next to the store that can remain for the animals.

Florida was once a vast savanna, dotted with deep, ancient forests. Today, less than 2 percent of that habitat remains. Consequently, the plants, animals and insects that used to thrive there have been decimated. Environmentalists say that this latest commercial development might be the killing blow for many of them.

According to the Miami Herald:

“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.

Some of the animals who owe their continued existence to the few remaining rockland forests? The bald eagle, the indigo snake, two rare butterfly species, and the endangered Florida bonneted bat.


Florida bonneted bat are so rare that until 2002, they were thought to be extincted.

The plant life is equally rare. According to Miami-Dade County over 225 types of native plants occur in the habitat and over 20 percent of the plants are found no where else.

Pine Rocklands occur only in South Florida, the Florida Keys, and some islands of the Bahamas. These pinelands, interspersed with hardwood hammocks, once covered 185,000 acres of Miami-Dade County. By the time the city of Miami celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1996, only 2% of the pine forest remained within the urbanized areas of the County and outside of the protective border of Everglades National Park.

The rest of the forest has been broken into fragments. From the air, the pinelands appear scattered across Miami-Dade’s industrial, residential, and agricultural landscape, looking less like a forest than like islands of trees in a sea of urbanization.

A unique plant community, Rockridge pinelands have been officially designated as a globally imperiled habitat.

Recently, the university sent in conservation teams to assess what they had living and growing in the forests that they owned. The teams came out astonished at the diversity of life that was thriving in the habitat.

“There was so much material there that we had to kind of prioritize. It was acres and acres,” one biologist recounted later.

Many of the flora and fauna now almost extinct once dominated most of Florida, but the grind of urban sprawl has seen nearly every untouched forest in the state destroyed. In a way, this 88 acres was the final stand – the last, desperate stab at survival for animals which have literally no where else on Earth to go.

One species the country doesn’t need more of is Wal-Mart. The corporation has over 4,000 stores in the United States and nearly 200 in Florida alone. It’s likely – should the deal go through – that developers will move quickly to build as soon as possible. Construction teams are in a race against time. Every month more wildlife is uncovered in the land they propose to destroy, and it is getting harder to claim it was worth it or that they didn’t know. As U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Mark Salvato put it:

“A goodly portion of that site could probably be restored given the opportunity,” he said. “We’re going to have bona fide listed 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 (rare butterfly) Bartram’s hairstreak on the very terra firma they’re going to bulldoze.”

So this is the crossroads we find ourselves in. Are we a country that wants discounted clothing and cheap chicken sandwiches so badly that we are willing to lose some of nature’s most beautiful creatures to get it? And if so, what does that say about us as a society?

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