In July the news broke that the University of Miami had sold an 88-acre plot of land, near Zoo Miami, to a West Palm Beach developer who planned to build a Walmart. Environmentalists were devastated: The land is comprised of rare pine rockland forest, a savanna-like habitat found only in South Florida, the Bahamas, and Cuba.
After the announcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that a butterfly found only in the habitat, the Bartram's scrub-hairstreak, would officially be listed as endangered. Yesterday the USFWS announced two more species found only in the pine rocklands would also get that designation: The Carter's small-flowered flax and the Florida brickellbush.
"These are two flowers that have been waiting for protection for decades now," Jacylyn Lopez, with the Center for Biological Diversity, tells Riptide. "They're recognized as critically imperiled..How they got there was development of habitat."
The Carter's small-flowered flax, according to the center, is "one foot tall with slender leaves and yellow petals," and the Florida brickellbush is "a white, perennial flower in the aster family that grows to more than three feet tall." Only an estimated 2,100 to 3,700 plants of both species survive.
The new listing isn't going to stop Walmart from doing its thing, though, on habitat that serves as the unique home for several species.
The endangered listing provides a limited amount of new protection, but it doesn't force Ram, the development company, to change its plans. In a statement posted on Ram's website on August 19, after the announcement declaring the butterfly as endangered, the company said it had met with representatives from the USFWS and had agreed to "a protocol for onsite surveys of certain endangered species."
"The Service and Ram are working collaboratively to balance environmental preservation with job creation and economic development in South Miami-Dade."
Lopez said she hopes the most recent listings will inspire further reflection and debate --especially among the developers -- about the wisdom of the project and what's really best for South Florida. "Is it that we have another regional shopping opportunity, or is that we maintain what we have left of our natural environment?" she asks.
She adds, "This is just one more reason--pile it on to the growing list of reasons--for why developing this area is a bad idea."