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Do We Really Need Another Walmart More Than We Need Wildlife?

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It doesn't get much more David versus Goliath than this: In South Florida endangered butterflies and bats are clinging to the last remaining pine rockland forest habitat where a developer wants to build yet another strip mall, complete with Walmart and Chick-fil-A.

The development -- with the shamelessly ironic name of Coral Reef Commons -- also includes 900 "high quality" apartments, which could leave rare species like the Florida leafwing butterfly and Bartram's scrub-hairstreak searching for a new home. Although these two species just gained protection under the Endangered Species Act, their habitat options are rapidly disappearing. Literally. The site for the new Walmart & Friends sits on priceless habitat reduced to just 2 percent of its original size. As if that's not enough, the butterflies are also threatened by sea-level rise from climate change in other areas of the state.

It doesn't matter how many solar panels Walmart might add to its new location, Florida's threatened wildlife needs its habitat far more than it needs yet another development causing more emissions, more traffic, more pollution and more overconsumption.

So, what about humans? Do we really need another Walmart more than we need biodiversity?

The answer may seem obvious (Hint: No, we don't), but it's a question we better start taking seriously. Florida's booming population has put the state on track to overtake New York this year as the country's third most populous state. And that growth comes at a steep cost to wildlife, from small, fragile butterflies to the majestic Florida panther, whose remaining 5 percent of its original range is so fragmented by development that road kill has become a major threat to the species.

This problem extends beyond Florida. A recently released study from the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that, if we stay on our current track, the entire southeast region will become one big megalopolis by 2060. Translation: huge sprawling cities, endless roads and devastating habitat destruction. The loss of woodlands and grasslands is not only a loss for wildlife -- it means ecosystems that help prevent flooding and reduce pollution would be replaced by traffic-clogged roads contributing even more to climate change.

We can still avoid this dystopian future. We need to address population growth -- the Southeast's population growth rate over the past 60 years is 40 percent larger than the rest of the country -- and along with it, urban planning policies that have led to more strip malls and suburbs than environmentally-conscious cities. And we need to take a close look at our own consumption patterns, and whether we really need more chains and big box stores to live happy, sustainable lives.

Let's start by choosing wildlife over Walmart. Take action and tell Ram Realty Services, the company behind the Walmart development in South Florida, to abandon its plans to pave over paradise.

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