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Miami Wilds Stalls as Commissioners Withdraw Proposal in Victory for Endangered Wildlife

December 12, 2023; PRESS RELEASE from the Center for Biological Diversity

Mayor Committed to Rescinding Development Lease Agreement
MIAMI— Miami-Dade County commissioners voted today to withdraw a proposal that would have amended the development lease agreement with Miami Wilds, LLC. Today’s decision stymies plans for a controversial themed water park and retail development that threatens endangered species near Zoo Miami.

During the commission meeting, the county attorney and Mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed that the administration intends to proceed with rescinding the development lease agreement.

The commission decision follows a recommendation by Mayor Levine Cava to rescind the lease and abandon the project to best safeguard the county’s interests and the community’s needs and objectives. It also follows a legal victory for conservation groups who challenged the National Park Service’s decision to release land-use restrictions in connection with the project. A Dec. 11 federal court order reinstated those restrictions, which prohibit leasing and commercial development on lands within the project footprint.

“Today was a good day for wildlife,” said Mike Daulton, executive director at Bat Conservation International. “We’re encouraged that commissioners spoke out against Miami Wilds and voiced their support for the mayor to start the process of rescinding the ill-fated lease.”

“This is a step in the right direction, but the county can’t keep kicking this can down the road,” said Lauren Jonaitis, senior conservation director of Tropical Audubon Society. “Our elected officials need to take meaningful action to protect endangered species and ensure the preservation of the largest and most biodiverse fragment of critically endangered pine rocklands outside of Everglades National Park.”

During the meeting commissioner Raquel Regalado moved to “take all actions necessary to rescind the lease and concession agreement with Miami Wilds,” in consultation with the county attorney’s office. Although she withdrew her motion on technical grounds, she indicated her plan to reintroduce the item at the January meeting. A majority of the commissioners present opposed moving forward with the development in the environmentally sensitive area near Zoo Miami.

“I’m relieved that commissioners didn’t recommit to this ill-conceived plan in this meeting, but the threat isn’t gone,” said attorney Elise Bennett, Florida and Caribbean director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The county needs to take additional steps to ensure the future of this incredibly rare and biodiverse ecosystem. We’re counting on the commission to banish this specter looming over the pine rocklands so we can focus on a new vision that supports Miamians who love this place and the endangered animals and plants who live here.”

On Monday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent a letter to the county advising that lands within the project area for Miami Wilds are environmentally sensitive and have high ecological value for rare species, including at least 12 species that are federally protected or proposed for federal protection. Specifically, the Service noted that the lands were likely to be considered essential for the conservation of the Florida bonneted bat. The Service encouraged the county to maintain the ecological function of those lands to support species conservation.

“The county needs to formulate a comprehensive plan for long-term protection of the entire Richland Pine Rockland area,” said Dennis Olle, president of the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association. “Now’s the time to affirmatively protect this habitat so we don’t have to worry about the risk of future development.”

In 2022 Miami-Dade County and Miami Wilds, LLC, agreed to build a theme park, retail area, hotel and acres of associated parking lots in an area that hosts critical habitat for endangered Florida bonneted bats, Rim Rock crowned snakes, Miami tiger beetles, Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak, Florida leafwing butterflies and several endangered plants.

The development threatens to cause cascading effects on imperiled species and surrounding ecosystems, destroying dark, open foraging habitat for bats and hampering natural fire needed to support ecosystem health of the critically endangered pine rocklands, which are home to dozens of rare and endangered animals, plants and insects found nowhere else on Earth.

On Sept. 6 and Sept. 19, the Board of County Commissioners deferred a vote to amend and extend the development lease agreement with Miami Wilds, LLC (Item #231692).

On Nov. 15 the Miami-Dade mayor’s office released a memorandum recommending that the county commissioners rescind the development lease agreement with Miami Wilds, LLC, for the proposed water park development in an environmentally sensitive area at Zoo Miami. The memo also requested withdrawal of the amended lease agreement under consideration (item #231692) that was deferred to the Dec. 12 Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners meeting.

On Dec. 11, in a victory for conservation groups, a federal judge found that the National Park Service had violated the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act when it released land-use restrictions on the environmentally sensitive site. Based on these violations, Judge Patricia A. Seitz invalidated the Park Service’s actions, restoring land-use restrictions on the property that prevent leasing and commercial development.

Also on Dec. 11, the Fish and Wildlife Service sent a letter to Miami-Dade County describing the ecological significance of lands in the Miami Wilds project area for endangered species and encouraging the county to maintain the ecological function of those lands to support species conservation.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Read the Original Press Release Here →

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SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE — Firefighters contained a 5-acre grass fire in Southwest Miami-Dade on Sunday afternoon.

December 10, 2023; CBS News Miami

Around 12:54 p.m., Miami-Dade Fire Rescue responded to reports of a grass fire near SW 119th Avenue and SW 168th Street. Upon arrival, firefighters found about 5 acres burning.

To protect nearby structures, the fire was upgraded to a second-alarm blaze to have additional units assist in the firefighting efforts.

Air Rescue was also dispatched to deploy water drops to contain the flames. MDFR and the Florida Forest Service worked together to place the fire under control.

At this time, there are no reported injuries and firefighters are staying on-site to monitor for hot spots.
To view the original CBS News Report click here.

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The Endangered Miami Tiger Beetle Becomes National Geographic Photo Ark’s 15,000th Species

November 28, 2023; ARTICLE from National Geographic Society Newsroom - Our Explorers Series

National Geographic Explorer and Photo Ark founder Joel Sartore hopes the national attention for the beetle will inspire protection for endangered species across the U.S.

iridescent beetle on black background
An endangered Miami tiger beetle, Cicindelidia florida, photographed in the wild in the Pine Rocklands ecosystem near Miami, Florida. This species has only been found in the globally imperiled pine rocklands of southern Florida. Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark.

WASHINGTON, DC (November 28, 2023) — At an event last night to honor the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), National Geographic Explorer and Photo Ark founder Joel Sartore announced that he has photographed the project’s 15,000th species: the endangered Miami tiger beetle (Cicindelidia floridana).

Found exclusively in the imperiled pine rocklands of southern Florida, the Miami tiger beetle is one of the rarest and smallest tiger beetles in the U.S. Today, its habitat in Miami-Dade County covers less than two percent of its original range. Roughly the size of a grain of a sunflower seed, this small but captivating jewel-toned beetle is an emblematic symbol for the plight of endangered and threatened species everywhere facing seemingly overwhelming odds.

Its selection not only pays tribute to the potential of the ESA to bring hope for species facing extinction, but also to the evocative power of the Photo Ark’s images that allow people to look into the eyes of often overlooked and undervalued species and form a sense of connection.

“When people look through my lens, I want them to gain an appreciation for how interesting each species is, how worthy of protection they are, and how important each one is to keeping our planet healthy –– even an insect as small as the Miami tiger beetle,” said Sartore. “When we take action to protect wildlife, we are safeguarding our own future too and there is no better time to act than right now.”

To photograph the Miami tiger beetle, Sartore worked closely with fellow Explorer and conservationist George Gann, who is leading a habitat restoration project in the pine rocklands. Gann’s work is funded by the Photo Ark’s Species Impact Initiative –– a program that funds on-the-ground conservation projects and leverages the Photo Ark’s powerful storytelling to help protect at-risk species.

“I am excited for the Miami tiger beetle to receive this honor,” said Gann. “It is too often that the small, less classically charismatic species are overlooked in mainstream conservation efforts. Joel’s images perfectly bring to life the beauty in every species he captures which allows people to appreciate their intrinsic value better and be inspired to gain a deeper understanding of their important roles in the ecosystems they inhabit.”

The announcement of the 15,000th species kicks off the National Geographic Society’s Giving Tuesday and its Hope For Species campaign, a month-long observance of the 50th anniversary of the ESA and its contributions to species survival. To mark the anniversary, the Society is amplifying the impact of Explorers who are working to protect wildlife, safeguard ecosystems, and educate and encourage the public to take action across the United States — Explorers like Sartore and Gann who give us hope for the future of species around the world.

“The National Geographic Photo Ark and the Photo Ark Species Impact Initiative demonstrate the power of storytelling and science working together to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world,” said Ian Miller, the Society’s Chief Science and Innovation Officer. “In the face of unprecedented threats to species across the globe, urgent action to give new hope for species facing extinction has never been more critical. Initiatives like these create empathy for creatures that often go unnoticed or under appreciated while empowering others to take action to protect biodiversity.”

Read the original article at

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Diverse Forests Hold Huge Carbon Potential, As Long As We Cut Emissions

November 14, 2023

ZURICH and DELRAY BEACH, Florida—New study estimates that natural forest recovery could capture approximately 226 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon, but only if we also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving these results requires community-driven efforts to conserve and restore biodiversity.

In brief:
*Forests have the potential to capture 226 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon in areas where they would naturally exist. *This forest potential can only be achieved alongside emissions cuts. *Sixty-one percent of the forest potential can be achieved by protecting existing forests and allowing them to regrow to maturity. *Thirty-nine percent can be achieved by reconnecting fragmented landscapes through community-driven ecosystem restoration and management. *A natural diversity of species is needed to maximize the forest carbon potential.

Research results published in the journal, Nature, show that realistic global forest carbon potential is approximately 226 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon. The study, which involved hundreds of scientists around the world, highlights the critical importance of forest conservation, restoration, and sustainable management in moving towards international climate and biodiversity targets. The researchers stress that this potential can be achieved by incentivizing community-driven efforts to promote biodiversity.

The forest carbon potential has been a highly controversial topic. Four years ago, a study published in the journal Science found that the restoration of forests could capture over 200 Gt of carbon - which could draw down approximately 30 percent of excess anthropogenic carbon. While this study elevated a discussion about the role of nature in fighting climate change, it also raised concerns around the adverse environmental impacts of mass tree plantations, carbon offsetting schemes, and greenwashing.

While some scientific studies have supported the scale of this finding, others argued that this forest carbon estimate could be up to 4 or 5 times too high.

To address this controversial topic an international team of hundreds of researchers led by the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich joined forces to build an integrated assessment using a comprehensive range of approaches, including vast ground-sourced data and satellite datasets.

Achieving forest carbon potential
Due to ongoing deforestation, the total amount of carbon stored in forests is ~328 Gt below its natural state. Of course, much of this land is used for extensive human development including urban and agricultural land. However, outside of those areas, researchers found that forests could capture approximately 226 Gt C in regions with a low human footprint if they were allowed to recover. Approximately 61 percent of this potential can be achieved by protecting existing forests, so that they can recover to maturity. The remaining 39 percent can be achieved by reconnecting fragmented forest landscapes through sustainable ecosystem management and restoration.

“Most of the world’s forests are highly degraded. In fact, many people have never been in one of the few old growth forests that remain on Earth,” said Lidong Mo, a lead author of the study. “To restore global biodiversity, ending deforestation must be a top priority.”

In his role as International Policy Lead and Chair Emeritus of the Society for Ecological Restoration, and Executive Director and Chief Conservation Strategist for the Institute for Regional Conservation (in Delray Beach, Florida), George Gann stated, “This science makes it clear: we must re-establish an ecologically healthy relationship between culture and nature. Responsible restoration plays a key role in helping us reach our climate goals, but only if the protection and recovery of native biodiversity is top priority.”

The dataset revealed that biodiversity accounts for approximately half of the global forest productivity. As such, the researchers highlighted that, to achieve the full carbon potential, restoration efforts should include a natural diversity of species. In addition, sustainable agricultural, forestry, and restoration practices that promote biodiversity have the greatest potential for carbon capture.

Redefining restoration
The authors stress that responsible restoration is a fundamentally social endeavour. It includes countless actions such as conservation, natural regeneration, rewilding, silviculture, agroforestry, and all other community-driven efforts to promote biodiversity. It requires equitable development, driven by policies that prioritize the rights of local communities and Indigenous people.

“We need to redefine what restoration means to many people,” said Thomas Crowther, the senior author of the paper and a professor at ETH Zurich. “Restoration is not about mass tree plantations to offset carbon emissions. Restoration means directing the flow of wealth towards millions of local communities, Indigenous populations, and farmers that promote biodiversity across the globe. Only when healthy biodiversity is the preferred choice for local communities will we get long-term carbon capture as a biproduct.”

The researchers conclude that ecologically responsible forest restoration does not include the conversion of other ecosystems that would not naturally contain forests. “Global restoration is not only about trees,” said Constantin Zohner, a senior researcher at ETH Zurich. “We have to protect natural biodiversity in all ecosystems including grasslands, peatlands, and wetlands that are equally essential for life on Earth.”

Nature for climate
This study brings to light the critical importance of natural, diverse forests in contributing to 30 percent of carbon drawdown potential. However, forests cannot be a substitute for cutting fossil fuel emissions. If emissions continue to rise, the study warns, then on-going droughts, fires, and warming will threaten forests and limit their ability to absorb carbon.

“My biggest fear is that corporations misuse this information as an excuse to avoid cutting fossil fuel emissions. The more we emit, the more we threaten nature and people. There can be no choice between reducing emissions and protecting nature because we urgently need both. We need nature for climate, and we need climate action for nature!” said Crowther.

Further information
Mo L, Zohner CM, Reich PB, et al. Integrated global assessment of the natural forest carbon potential.
Nature, published online 13 November 2023, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06723-z → →

ETH Zurich
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CONTACT: Tina L. Pugliese, APR, Pugliese PR
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George Gann Receives Bradshaw Medal 2023 from the Society for Ecological Restoration

November 13, 2023

DELRAY BEACH, Florida—George Gann, Executive Director and Chief Conservation Strategist for the Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC), recently received the Bradshaw Medal 2023 from the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER). The recipients were formally announced during the Award ceremony on September 28 at the SER2023 World Conference in Darwin, Australia.

Mr. Gann and his co-authors were selected by the Editorial Board of Restoration Ecology to receive the Bradshaw Medal 2023 for the best paper published in Restoration Ecology 2022, Volume 3 – Restoration, reclamation, and rehabilitation: on the need for, and proposing a definition of, ecological reclamation. The paper is available open access for a limited time.

Named after the British ecologist and restoration pioneer Tony Bradshaw, the award honors scientific papers published in Restoration Ecology that advance the field of restoration ecology in a significant way.

According to Valter Amaral, PhD, Managing Editor, Restoration Ecology, “Restoration ecology is a dynamic research field advancing rapidly thanks to research like yours. Your Opinion article was lauded by the nominating Editorial Board members as one that made strong advances to untangling the complexities of how we distinguish our intent and practices in restoration ecology, an important need when considering the ethics, policy, and governance issues. We greatly appreciate works strongly impacting restoration practice, science, and policy. We sincerely hope you continue questioning, exploring, and studying restoration ecology issues. It is an exciting time for this field, and our community relies on leading-edge research by scientists, academics, and other professionals worldwide.”

CONTACT: Tina L. Pugliese, APR, Pugliese PR
(561) 889-3575;