Northwest Miami-Dade gunslingers shoot endangered wood storks for target practice

The weirdest nook of Miami-Dade County is its unincorporated northwest corner — a rural tract where guajiros pummel each other at cowboy bars, black-market horse meat is in high demand, and burned cars and other refuse litter the streets as if in some Mad Max hellscape.

Here's yet another strange atrocity: Hunters there are using an endangered bird as target practice.

It happens every winter, says Pepe, our man on the street who asked that his last name not be used. Revelers stream into Northwest Dade to drink at the sprawling ranchos and drive ATVs through the brush — and fire on every feathered thing unfortunate enough to cross their path. "They'll shoot any bird they see, for target practice," Pepe says. "Sometimes they use automatic assault weapons. They don't even pick up the carcasses."

Mark Poutenis

Among the bullet-riddled birds Pepe has found: several endangered wood storks. The gangly white water bird is trying to make a Rocky-like comeback from severely decimated numbers: In the '70s, only 2,500 remained. After hunting was restricted, an estimated 10,000 wood storks exist today — a relative boom that has Florida developers lobbying to downgrade the bird's status from "endangered" to "threatened" in order to ease habitat restrictions.

But even those developers sound dismayed to hear of the illegal slaughter. "Whether or not you believe they should be endangered, that's the law," says Steven Gieseler, an attorney representing a Florida homebuilders' association. "I would hope that everybody would follow the law until the day it changes."

"That's really bad news," Julie Wraithmell, wildlife policy coordinator for Audubon of Florida, says after being told of the killed storks. "If that's happening, it needs to be reported, and those hunters need to be caught."

Pepe says residents in the rough-and-tumble hood are usually too apathetic or afraid to report the wood stork hunting, but he's complained twice to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. "This is still part of Miami-Dade County, and this is still part of America," Pepe says with frustration. "There are people living out here who do care."

 
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