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Advocates Fuming Over Oil Testing Plans in Big Cypress Preserve

Advocates fear the impact of oil testing in the Big Cypress National Preserve. (M. Schwartz)
Advocates fear the impact of oil testing in the Big Cypress National Preserve. (M. Schwartz)
May 23, 2016

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Big Cypress National Preserve is one of the most biologically diverse sites in the state, but many who love it say it's not being preserved the way it should.

The National Park Service recently authorized seismic testing in the preserve, a process that involves multiple trucks weighing more than 60,000 pounds crisscrossing the preserve, sending out vibrations in search of oil deposits.

While the Park Service maintains the testing will have no significant impact on the preserve’s natural resources, Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, says the preserve is an extremely fragile ecosystem, parts of which have never even seen motor vehicles.

"There are something like 30 protected species, animals that have either conservation status with the federal or state government,” he points out. “Botanically, the preserve is one of the richest places in North America, with well over a thousand plants identified so far."

In 2001, a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey found that off-road vehicles used by hunters were impacting wildlife populations, soil and water quality, and vegetation in the preserve.

Several environmental groups are currently looking at possible legal action in an attempt to block the testing from moving forward.

Schwartz says when it comes to protecting the preserve and its resources, the seismic testing is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Our concerns are what comes after they discover the oil: oil rigs, oil pads, new oil roads, the entire creation of oil fields in the middle of this incredible preserve," he states.

Big Cypress encompasses more than 700,000 acres and when it was established in 1974, it became one of the first national preserves in the nation's National Park System.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL