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In the ongoing fight to save the Briger Forest, the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC), The South Florida Wildlands Association, The Sierra Club of Florida led by its Loxahatchee Group, and the Palm Beach County Green Party have submitted a letter today notifying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of violations of the Endangered Species Act in connection with the consultation process that the two agencies engaged in over the Scripps Briger Development of Regional Impact (DRI) Project in Palm Beach County, Florida. The letter has been submitted by William S. Eubanks II of the Washington, D.C. public interest environmental law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein and Crystal.
As one of the last remaining sizable tracts of contiguous forested land in Palm Beach County, the project site is critical for various wildlife species including the federally protected eastern indigo snake. With major highways and heavy development on all sides, the site plays a key role in providing habitat for numerous species which, simply put, have nowhere else to go.
However, in their Biological Opinion written for the project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to account for the parcel's value as habitat or refuge for wildlife. In authorizing construction and operation of a massive facility that will eliminate habitat for snakes and other wildlife on the parcel – leading to the eventual elimination of all remaining eastern indigo snakes, a federally listed threatened species, from the property – alternative ways of conserving the project site were not even considered. Indeed, by failing to minimize deaths and injuries of eastern indigo snakes at all – let alone analyzing various ways that the agency could have minimized such deaths and injuries – the Service has failed to comply with its duties under the Endangered Species Act.
Christian Minaya of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition said his group has had longstanding opposition to the development of this tract. "Our vision for the future of the Briger Tract is one of preservation. A vital link to old Florida, a preserved Briger Tract will undoubtedly prove to be a precious resource for the continuation of biological diversity in the area, as well as a great boon for education and recreation for local residents."
Suki DeJong of the Palm Beach County Green Party echoed those remarks. "In the future we see the land being acquired through private and public funds, invasive species removed, the ecosystem restored to a natural state, and ultimately the whole area managed and kept for passive recreation. A living laboratory, the Briger Tract holds unfathomable potential as a teaching tool for the community as well as being a treasure trove for diverse science disciplines. We believe it is time that Palm Beach County treasure and preserve its natural resources - not facilitate their destruction."
"As growth continues unabated in south Florida, the habitat available for wildlife shrinks at a steady rate", said Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association. "This puts our biodiversity at extreme risk. For many species, rigorous enforcement of the Endangered Species Act is the only lifeline they have. The Fish and Wildlife Service had many options here - including requiring changes to the development plan. It's unfortunate that they gave a green light to complete destruction of habitat in this locale."
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Full text of the notice letter.