Big Cypress National Preserve
by L. Jack Moller, Member, Everglades Coordinating Council

The Big Cypress National Preserve was created in 1974 as the first "preserve" in the nation. The Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP) was originally 570,000 acres and then expanded to 700,000 acres in 1988 by the "Big Cypress National Preserve Addition Act". The enabling act allows for hunting, fishing, trapping, and the use of ORVs and cattle grazing. The act also provides for property to exempt by different classifications of land. Some owners of improved property could also take various options from a lease back agreement up to a life estate. The major use of the BCNP is hunting and the use of swamp buggies and airboats (ORVs).

 The Big Cypress basin before it became public property was owned by a few major landowners, mainly the Collier Enterprise, Inc. and many, many smaller landowners. Those lands that did not qualify for exemption and the owner did want to sell willing were condemned under Federal Government practices and procedures. We all know what that means. Event though the law calls for the land to be bought at market value the Federal appraisers establish this value and it was way below local real estate market values. Additionally the landowner had to pay for all legal cost even if they won the issue in court.

 Not only was the land on the market for development it had been used for many other activities as well. In 1947 there was 60,000,000 board feet (60 million)-of Cypress lumber being cut in the basin. This was did not include the pine and oak trees being harvested. In addition to timber activities the area had thousands of acres that were farmed by winter vegetable growers, cow calf operations, and oil exploration. As anyone with a bit of common sense can see the area was used hard. Congress and all the environmental groups who lined up to create the Big Cypress National Preserve knew this.

 However, once the land became public domain many of those who had known of the level and type of were going on when the land was private forgot these uses occurred. All of a sudden they started to clamor for the BCNP to manage it as if people had never used it. They wanted the area to be managed as a park!

 It took 15 years for the NPS to complete the General Management Plan for the BCNP. Once this plan was done all seemed to be running well. The primary users were still able to use the area and those who did not hunt or use an ORV could also use the area. But, then a few years ago a group (I do not want to use their name so as to avoid giving them publicity) filed suite under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to stop the use of ORVs. This was the means of stopping hunting. Think of it as if the horse was taken out of the west. Without the use of this highly specialized equipment one cannot use the area but a few weeks out of the year.

 The plaintiff filed litigation alleging that under the CWA the NPS had allowed the use of ORVs had triggered the Tulluck Rule (which has since been thrown out by the courts) and that the when the ORV was used in the uplands they negatively impacted the endangered Florida Panther. Thus the NPS had violated two major laws the WCA and the ESA. The plaintiff requested the use of ORVs to be stopped at once. Thus we could not go in the wet lands nor could we go in the uplands.

 At the time of the filing of this case the CWA and ESA were going before Congress and the Department of justice did not want a court case involving these acts for fear that they would not be reauthorize. Thus the DOJ and the NPS settled the matter behind closed doors. This was done without the involvement of the interveners, of which I was one. In this settlement the NPS had to develop an ORV management plan which is coming to forth at this time. Also the DOJ had to pay the plaintiff's legal expenses because of the acts they filed under. The interveners had to pay their legal expenses.

 This is a good example of how these laws are being used by the legal profession to increase their income. We should work to have these portions of these laws removed. Our legal cost were $80,000 so it would stand to reason the plaintiff's cost were the same. That is tax money paid by you and me.

 Since the plaintiff filed their case all the allegations have been found, by different studies, to be invalid. Nevertheless their action remains open and under the jurisdiction of the courts. The good point is we have still been able to use the BCNP as we did prior to the litigation. Here comes the "BUT" now the NPS has its ORV General Management Plan out and the anti-use folks are going to try and make the plan be more restrictive than it is proposed to be.

 We ask that you write as a company, club or individual to Superintendent, Big Cypress National Preserve, HCR 61, Box 11, Ochopee, Florida, 34141. Please ask that he implement the proposed ORV management plan's preferred option with the exception of the annual ORV cost. You can remind him that the enabling acts allow the use of ORVs and that these uses were strengthened in the language of the Addition law when this act stipulated that 'traditional' activity is to be allowed. The proposed ORV cost increase is a discriminatory action by the NPS to try and stop the common man from using the BCNP unless they only hike.

 This ORV permit issue is that at the present time the only user to pay for using the BCNP is the ORV owner and hunter/fisherman. Other users pay nothing to use the BCNP yet the NPS wants the annual ORV permit cost to be $50. The BCNP has started implementation of a very limited and restrictive trail system for ORV users. This limited trail system limits 'traditional' activity of the BCNP. (This change made by Steve)

 If we cannot flood the Superintendent with letters supporting our interest we will be out of the BCNP and the anti-use people will have the area all to themselves. At the present time they have the 175,000-acre Addition area all to themselves. Since 1988 there have been no ORVs allowed in the area even though there are several hundred miles of trails and there has been no hunting. Yet the anti-use folks have been able to go and come with no fees thus they think they own this land. Next year we will go through another General Management Plan process for these Addition lands.

 The Big Cypress National Preserve is a good example of how the anti-use folks are working to get the traditional users out of public lands. Looking at this litigation in retrospect it is thought by many the NPS encourage the plaintiff to file this litigation, as some would call it a friendly suit. The NPS in essence said to the plaintiff we cannot take the ORV and hunter interest out of the BCNP but if you will fill this litigation we will not fight it. The outcome will be to take them out! It will never be known if this is true. But, it sure seems strange that for 23 years this litigation had never been filed until the DOJ would not fight the case in the interest of keeping the CWA and ESA alive.

‹For questions or for further information, contact the author by email at: [], or by fax at 305-248-9924 (attention: B. Powell, secretary).

This page copied verbatum, except text in italics has been updated by Steve on June 1, 2001