The University of Miami has sold 88 acres of endangered forest to a Walmart developer. Although the pine rockland houses numerous endangered species and plants, the developer plans to clear the forest to make room for a new shopping center.
The developer, Ram, has committed to preserving 40 acres. However, the remaining 44 acres will be destroyed to accommodate a Walmart shopping center, several restaurants, an LA Fitness center, and a 900 unit apartment complex. Ram was also contracted to develop an additional 35 acres, which are “still owned by the university.”
As reported by Miami Herald, the land was originally owned by the Richmond Naval Air Station. In 1945, the base suffered extensive damage during a hurricane. As the buildings were no longer suitable for Naval storage and operations, the land was acquired by the University of Miami.
In 1946, UM opened its South Campus on a portion of the land. Although the university built numerous structures, the forest remained largely undeveloped.
As a large portion of the land remained unused for nearly 70 years, UM made a decision to sell the endangered forest to a developer. The sale was initially proposed in 2011. However, a federal ordinance prohibited development without further inspection.
Several wildlife organizations worked together to assess the pine rockland, its flora, and fauna. The biologists’ research concluded that the forest is “a globally imperiled habitat containing a menagerie of plants, animals, and insects, found no place else.”
Biologists estimate “about 40 species” of plants are unique to the pine rockland. In addition to the rare plants, development will also threaten the existence of rare butterflies, bats, birds, and snakes. Although the plants, butterflies, and their eggs, can be relocated, the procedure is delicate and will not ensure their survival.
UM has defended their decision to sell the endangered forest. University officials said they are working with Ram to preserve the designated 40 acres. They also said the university “is committed to protecting” the remaining 2,900 acres that exist outside the Everglades National Park.
Field Biologist Jennifer Possley said she and her colleagues are in the process of relocating as many plants and insects as possible. Unfortunately, “there was so much material” that they were forced to prioritize.
UM’s decision to sell the endangered forest will likely remain a point of controversy. Although the university and the developer have faced stark criticism, they believe their plan to preserve and restore the remaining forest will be beneficial to the region.
[Images via For Wallpaper and Wikimedia]