[Below is a letter sent by the PBCEC to FAU's new President.]
Mary Jane Saunders, Ph.D.
Florida Atlantic University
Administration Bldg., Room # 339
777 Glades Road
Boca Raton, FL 33431
Nov 16, 2010
Re: FAU’s disregard for protected wildlife and habitat
The Palm Beach county Environmental Coalition is disappointed with the disregard for wildlife that Florida Atlantic University (FAU) has shown on and near its campuses. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) list the Gopher Tortoise as a Threatened Species and the Burrowing Owl a Species of Special Concern which as you know have habitat designated for them on the FAU Boca Raton campus. It is your responsibility as the new president to ensure their survival by stopping further removal of their habitat.
As of right now, FAU is slated to build a road to the new stadium which will go through current Gopher Tortoise and Burrowing Owl habitat. Too much encroachment has already occurred as the animals are surrounded by concrete, parking lots and multiple story buildings. To put another road which intersects the conservation area would not just reduce their habitat area, but increase their exposure to toxins, pollutants, noise pollution, etc. It would also drastically increase the chances that these beautiful creatures would die at the hands of careless drivers.
This environmental devastation extends beyond the single campus in Boca Raton. To the north, across from Jupiter campus, FAU has remained complicit while a partner of the University, Scripps Florida, plans to further wipe out the habitat of Gopher Tortoises and endangered species, such as the Hand Fern (Ophioglossum Palmatum), by building a biotech research park and animal testing laboratory.
On this 700 acre forest, citizen surveyors (1) recorded the location of over 50 colonies of Hand Ferns. This endangered plant cannot be relocated. As a shade dependent fern, no relocation methods have been successful; it dies almost every time it is removed from its host cabbage palm. If the Florida Natural Areas Inventory is correct in its estimation of Hand Fern populations in the state, then Scripps could be decimating 2% of the species. (2)
We analyzed the DRI done on this property and they noted only two Hand Ferns. As a partner with Scripps, can you reassure us, the community, and the student population that FAU is doing all it can to preserve and protect all of Florida's endangered and threatened species on this property?
FAU should not further impact the habitat of these listed species on any of their property. And it has a moral obligation to speak out regarding the practice of its partners and neighbors. The school’s Conservation Committee is a step in the right direction, however; this has not prevented the continued shrinking of the Boca’s campuses on-site Preserve and the loss of other open lands.
We join other organizations in urging you to set aside the Preserve and other available open lands on campus through a Conservation Easement or similar program. We also recommend that funds be allocated on an annual basis to manage these habitats appropriately for tortoises and owls.
Without ongoing management, these lands will quickly become unsuitable for these species. FAU has unique habitats that are rapidly disappearing throughout south Florida, and it is your responsibility to ensure their preservation. It would be a great embarrassment for the school if they were to lose the resident population of their mascot.
These habitats and wildlife can and are being used for educational purposes. Several research studies have been conducted by students and faculty on the Preserve and open areas. We feel the educational opportunities on Jupiter campuses neighboring Briger Tract also deserve to be seriously evaluated.
Please let me know at your earliest convenience what steps the university is taking to prevent the loss of these unique species and habitat. We would like to set up a meeting to discuss this topic with you.
Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition
(1) Please see attached document: Impacts to Listed Species and Threatened Habitat on Proposed Scripps Phase II Development / Briger Tract
(2) Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Field Guide "Hand Fern". 2000