A section of an endangered Florida forest may soon be home to a new Walmart.
In a move that’s enraging environmentalists, the University of Miami in early July sold 88 acres of endangered pine rockland in Miami-Dade County. The purchaser, Palm Beach County developer Ram Realty Services, will clear out much of the area and punch in a 158,000-square-foot Walmart, as well as an LA Fitness, Chik-fil-A, Chili’s and 900 apartments, the Miami Herald reports.
Preservationists worry the development will strip the land of its rare plants and harm its threatened and endangered animals, including two rare butterflies, the bald eagle, the indigo snake and the Florida bonneted bat, per the Herald.
Laura Reynolds, of the Tropical Audubon Society, was devastated by the sale. “Our imperiled land is being replaced by Walmart, it’s sad,” she told CBS Miami.
If an endangered animal is knowingly injured or killed during construction, sanctions could be issued to halt development, as outlined by the Endangered Species Act.
The Herald notes that the developer has agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.
Ram forwarded The Huffington Post a statement by its chairman, Peter Cummings, who said:
We have collaborated with the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resource Management and members of the environmental community to create a thoughtful plan for protecting and maintaining preserve areas on the property in perpetuity, including the present and future removal of invasive species.
Cummings also noted that the company will meet with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the group's concerns over this development are addressed.
Walmart rep Bill Wertz offered HuffPost a statement on the development plan. It reads, in part:
As a company that has actively worked for nearly a decade on conservation efforts to protect priority lands across the country, our expectation is that Ram continue working with the conservation community and regulatory agencies to ensure the nearly 50-acre nature preserve it has set aside provides protection to South Florida wildlife.
Representatives did not immediately offer statements for the University of Miami.
This post has been updated with statements from Ram and Walmart.