Big Cypress National Preserve
|Big Cypress National Preserve|
IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area)
|Location||Collier, Monroe, & Miami-Dade counties, Florida, United States|
|Nearest city||Everglades City, Florida|
|Area||720,566 acres (291,603 ha)|
|Established||October 4, 1974|
|Visitors||941,393 (in 2011)|
|Governing body||National Park Service|
Big Cypress National Preserve is a United States National Preserve located in southern Florida, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Miami. The 720,000-acre (2,900 km2) Big Cypress, along with Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, became the first national preserves in the United States National Park System when they were established on 11 October 1974. In 2008, Florida film producer Elam Stoltzfus featured this preserve in a PBS documentary.
Geography and history of establishment
Big Cypress borders the wet freshwater prairies of Everglades National Park to the south, and other state and federally protected cypress country in the west, with water from the Big Cypress flowing south and west into the coastal Ten Thousand Islands region of Everglades National Park. When Everglades National Park was established in 1947, Big Cypress was originally intended to be included; however, because the land had not been purchased from its private owners, Big Cypress was ultimately released from the park system.
Human use and impact
Ecologically, the preserve is slightly more elevated than the western Everglades. Big Cypress was historically occupied by various cultures of Native Americans; the last were the Seminole of the nineteenth century. Their descendants include the federally recognized Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Early European-American settlers hunted herons and egrets, whose feathers were extremely popular with 19th and 20th-century hat-makers in New York and Paris. Poachers hunted American alligators and crocodiles to near extinction. When the timber industry began to operate in the area, it built railroads, and cut and hauled out most of the cypress ecosystem's old growth trees. Portions of the Big Cypress were farmed for winter vegetables.
The search for oil in Florida began in 1901, but with no success. After almost 80 more dry holes had been drilled throughout the state, on September 26, 1943 Humble Oil Company (later to become Exxon) discovered Florida's first producing oil well in the northwest portion of what is now Big Cypress National Preserve. The wells currently produce about 20 barrels of oil per day.
Big Cypress National Preserve differs from Everglades National Park in that, when it was established by law in 1974, the Miccosukee, Seminole and Traditional people were provided with permanent rights to occupy and use the land in traditional ways; in addition, they have first rights to develop income-producing businesses related to the resources and use of the preserve, such as guided tours. They and other hunters may use off-road vehicles, and home and business owners have been permitted to keep their properties in the preserve. As in Everglades National Park, petroleum exploration was permitted within Big Cypress in the authorizing legislation, but plans are under way for the government to buy out the remaining petroleum leases in order to restore the environment.
In the 1960s, Native Americans, hunters, and conservationists succeeded at fighting an effort to move Miami International Airport's international flights to a new airport in the Big Cypress area. They followed up with a campaign to have Big Cypress included in the National Parks System. Although construction of the new airport had already begun, it was stopped after one runway was completed. It is now known as the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport.
Flora and fauna
The preserve is the most biologically diverse region of the terrestrial Everglades. While dominated by a wet cypress forest, it is host to an array of flora and fauna, including mangroves, orchids, alligators, venomous snakes like the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti) and eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), a variety of birds, and the Florida panther, (Puma concolor couguar) and the Florida black bear.
The preserve is also home to nine federally listed endangered species including the West Indian manatee, the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi), and the Florida sandhill crane (Grus canadensis pratensis).
Visiting Big Cypress
Twelve campgrounds in Big Cypress are tailored to motor vehicles, where tourists planning overnight stays can park their vehicles and ORVs in designated areas. The southern terminus of the Florida National Scenic Trail is located in Big Cypress, and provides hiking opportunities during the winter months. For nature lovers who don't mind getting their feet wet, hiking throughout Big Cypress is enjoyable in all seasons, with most of the cypress country more hospitable to hikers than the dense sawgrass prairies of the central Everglades. Some of the most beautiful wading and walking can be found in cypress strands and prairies between the Loop Road and the Tamiami Trail.
Because alligators are numerous and often large, wading through the cypress country requires constant alertness. The preserve's visitor center offers an educational video about the surroundings. Rangers often lead hikes in the dry winter months, as well as canoe trips and bicycle tours.
A long-established recreational activity in the area, hunters were instrumental in protecting this corner of remote, wild Florida. Hunting activities continue today and include seasons for archery, muzzle loading and general gun. Typical game species are white-tailed deer, turkey and hogs. Alligator hunting is not allowed within the national preserve. Hunting within the preserve is managed cooperatively between the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Controversy over off-road vehicles
Touted as a "recreational paradise" by the Department of the Interior, Big Cypress was created in part to accommodate access with off-road vehicles (ORVs) by the hunters and the Miccosukee and Seminole people who had worked to protect Big Cypress from drainage and development. However, scientists and conservationists have noted an increase in ORV recreation that prompted the National Park Service in 2001 to proactively manage ORV recreation and to reduce 400 miles (640 km) of primary trails within the preserve, despite persistent calls for more from hunters and ORV enthusiasts.
According to a 2001 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey,
"ORV use in Big Cypress National Preserve (BICY) has impacted wildlife populations and habitats through modifications to water flow patterns (direction and velocity) and water quality, soil displacement and compaction, direct vegetation damage, disturbance to foraging individuals, and, ultimately, overall suitability of habitats for wildlife."
Given these conclusions, environmental groups opposed the announcement by park officials in 2006 of a new study to determine whether the recreational benefit of more trails is worth the risk of additional damage to the ecosystem.
- "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011". Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
- "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service.
- National Park Service - Big Cypress National Preserve
- "Florida's First Oil Well
- National Park Service, James A. Goss, Usual and Customary Use by the Miccosukee and Seminole Indians in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, National Park Service, 1995, pp. 4-5
- National Park Service - Hunting
- "FL Gov. Scott open to Glades drilling", Miami Herald, 6 September 2011
- National Park Service - Hiking
- "Big Cypress National Preserve", Ruba
- "Hunting - Big Cypress National Preserve". National Park Service.
- National Park Service - ORV Use
- National Park Service - ORV Rules
- Effects of Public Land Use on Threatened, Endangered, and Ecosystem Restoration Indicator Species' Populations and Habitats in Big Cypress National Preserve
- "Big Cypress off-road riding will be studied", Naples News, 21 May 2006
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