Florida Forest, Home to More Than 20 Protected Species, to Be Bulldozed for Walmart Development

A forest in Miami, Florida, which is home to more than 20 species of protected animals and plants found nowhere else on earth, is set to be paved over for a huge Walmart development.

Environmental activists who have been fighting a long-running legal battle have lost their latest attempt to protect Miami-Dade's pine rockland.

As noted by the Miami Herald, the plot of land in Richmond has already been reduced to around two percent of its original size due to deforestation and development plans.

Peter Cummings, founder of Ram Realty Services, purchased part of what remains of the land from the University of Miami for $22 million in 2013. He planned to construct the Coral Reef Commons, a 138-acre retail space that would include a Walmart, an L.A Fitness and several hundred apartments.

In December 2017, a coalition of groups consisting of The Center for Biological Diversity, Tropical Audubon Society, Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition and South Florida Wildlands Association sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approving the development plans and for endangering the plants and animals that live in the forest.

Among the threatened species is the Miami tiger beetle, which is so rare it was thought extinct for decades until rediscovered in the pine rockland in 2007.

"This mega-development will wipe out some of South Florida's last ecological gems and diminish quality of life for nearby residents by worsening traffic and sprawl," Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "Losing the Florida bonneted bat, the rare Florida leafwing butterfly or the incredibly striking Miami tiger beetle is a tragedy that can't be undone."

The case was eventually settled in a federal lawsuit, allowing Ram Services to start construction of the project, reported BisNow.

In October 2017, local residents Belen Valladares and Ross Hancock sued Miami-Dade County, the University of Miami and Coral Reef Retail after they accused them of failing to properly inform the public of the scale of the construction plans.

"The notice was far from adequate, and I wonder if the lack of critical information wasn't an attempt to mislead the public about the project,'' Kent Harrison Robbins, who represents the activists, told a hearing on May 28, reports the Herald.

However, a Miami-Dade circuit judge has now dismissed the lawsuit after the defendants argued sufficient notice had been given and that Valladares and Hancock lacked standing as they do not live near the planned construction area so.

Following the hearing, Robbins said Valladares and Hancock were "concerned that the court has placed too much emphasis on property ownership as a prerequisite to the enforcement of the right of notice to a public hearing." They are considering an appeal.

Cummings told the Herald he is pleased with the ruling and that Ram Realty Services is working on a protection plan.

The company previously filed a Habitat Conservation Plan outlining how it plans to set aside around 55 acres inside the development plot, and a further 51 acres outside it, to preserve animals and plants, reported WLRN.

Construction of the site is well underway, including the concrete foundation of a strip mall near the entrance.

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A Walmart store is seen in Landover, Maryland, December 31, 2014, A Forest in Florida that is home to more than 20 endangered species is set to be bulldozed into a Walmart-based shopping center. SAUL LOEB/Getty
Florida Forest, Home to More Than 20 Protected Species, to Be Bulldozed for Walmart Development | U.S.