Big Cypress plan raises sportsmen’s ire

BIG CYPRESS PRESERVE — The Big Cypress Sportsmen’s Alliance Inc. (BCSA) is up in arms and alerting its members and the public to what it calls a secret conspiracy among federal agencies to “condemn or forcefully obtain 248 private inholdings within the boundaries of the preserve.”

This post on social media Thursday, June 27, immediately drew many commenters’ ire and had been shared widely by hundreds of the sportsmen and others with interest in protecting private lands within the preserve’s boundaries.

Lyle McCandless, president of the alliance, describes the group’s mission this way: “The Big Cypress Sportmen’s Alliance fights for our rights to have access to the Big Cypress (National Preserve), protecting the public and hunter’s rights, along with preserving hunting, fishing, off-road vehicle access throughout the preserve, family recreation, RVing, boating (and) airboating, for the future generations, along with preserving the land.”

The BCSA was founded in 2005 and, stated the post on the group’s Facebook page: “In the back of our minds we all knew the day would come. After all, they’ve been doing this since the preserve was established in 1974.”

The alliance contends that, “in the past these efforts were conducted openly and everyone knew it was happening, whether they liked it or not. This time it is a little different.”

The claim is that the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) are scheming to manipulate the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to do their dirty work, “then having the state donate the land back to the feds. These actions in the private sector would likely be prosecuted under RICO laws.”

The memo, dated April 15, 2019, was from Shannon L. Goessling, regional solicitor general for the DOI’s southeast region, to Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades National Park for the NPS, and its subject was “authority to condemn private lands in Big Cypress National Preserve to further U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-sponsored hydrologic restoration project.” It goes on to describe how the planning would take place.

The BCSA and Mr. McCandless allege that “the seemingly noble project of restoring the Everglades is their justification for needing to wrongfully take private property — property that was to be exempt from any such actions.

“Worst of all is the written directive in this memo that it shouldn’t be shared with the public,” the BCSA’s announcement stated further. “It seems the government has long forgotten its role and purpose to serve the people. We are working toward legal action against these nefarious efforts. If you are a camp owner or holder in Big Cypress, please send us a private message.”

The post also carried the memorandum from the DOI that the alliance cites as evidence of this conspiracy. A week after the post, an update from the Big Cypress Sportsmen’s Alliance stated that it had reached “17,000 people and counting.”

Some of the commenters put out calls for “a massive awareness festival out there.”

Nyla Pipes of the One Florida Foundation, in commenting on responses to the original post, explained that “these are properties that Gladesmen have owned and used for generations. The Gladesmen Heritage is to be protected as a part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project. The implications are astounding. The coordination and planning and insistence on keeping the discussion from the public (are) bad news.”

The discussion is sure to continue and intensify over the coming months as the agencies progress further on the WERP.

Prominent Seminole Tribe member Betty Osceola weighed in on the discussion, saying: “From my knowledge of some of the features of WERP, there is some reconnection and water flow benefits to both tribes (the Miccosukees and Seminoles). I do think there is a way to leave the landownership intact and still do this project.”

She suggested that future planning meetings “need to include the landowners (aka stakeholders) who they are planning to impact … at the table.”

To follow the discussion, go to facebook.com/Big-Cypress-Sportsmens-Alliance-Inc.

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