Preserve looks to change hunting plan

The National Park Service is developing a new Hunting Management Plan for the Big Cypress National Preserve.

The service has opened up the process to the public and various organizations to include their input on proposed changes.

The area that is under review is what is called the “Addition.”

Added onto the original land of the Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP) in 1988, the Addition spans over 147,000 acres of land to add to the 582,000 acres that Big Cypress already covers. The acquisition of the land was approved by Congress under the Big Cypress National Preserve Addition Act and was finally completed in 1996.

Hunting has never been allowed within the boundaries of the Addition and all laws and regulations that fall under the General Management Plan (GMP) apply only to the original Big Cypress land. The addition received its own GMP in 2010 and was named BCNP Additional Final General Management Plan.

According to a press release by the Park Planning District of the National Park Service the purpose of the possible changes is; “To develop a hunting management plan for the Big Cypress National Preserve / Wildlife Management Area that allows the superintendent of the preserve to provide for hunting opportunities in the preserve in a manner that is in the best interest of the Preserve’s resources and the public, while meeting the requirements set forth by the NPS, the preserve’s enabling legislation, the NPS/FWC Cooperative Partnership Agreement, and all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.”

The development of the new plan has three phases that will determine the future GMP of both the preserve and the addition. The NPS has agreed that all comments made by the public and various organizations will be included in each next draft report and taken into consideration when the final decision is being made.

The first phase was open for comment from March 7 through April 21,  2012 and proposed no action except current management would also work within the addition. If this were to occur, the entire reserve would follow the Cooperative Partnership Agreement that is run by the National Park Service in collaboration with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The second alternative suggested “current hunting management would continue within the original Preserve boundaries, using the guidance outlined in the NPS/FWC Cooperative Partnership Agreement,” according to the Drafted Plans. Following this alternative, public hunting would be banned as well.

The third alternative is called the New Adaptive Management Strategy; under this plan the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services would be consulted to create and “implement an adaptive management strategy to manage hunting in the Preserve.” This plan is the most rigorous as far as changes from the current situation.

From July 19 to Aug. 24, 2012, a Revised Hunting Management Plan/ Draft EA was posted for the public to comment on. This version took into account the initial round of commentary from outside organizations and people.

According to the National Park Service, a process called “Choosing By Advantage” was completed in November 2011 to determine which of the three alternatives was generally preferred. In its revised report that accompanied phase 2 NPS stated; “It was determined by the CBA process that alternative 3 provides the greatest total importance of advantages to the NPS and the public.”

“It would be great if they would open up a new sector for hunting,” said Bill Ryley, an avid South Florida hunter. “It would be fresh land and would definitely attract a lot of people.”

Although the original plan outlined the final decision to be made by late 2012, the decision making process is still occurring. To date, the third alternative has not been opened up for public commentary.

“This is an awfully long drawn out process but I feel that it is much overdue,” said Stacey Tow, a volunteer at the Big Cypress Visitors Center. “Hunters are our biggest crowd out here basically, so they probably want this to be done as soon as it can be.”

The Second Revised HMP/Draft EA was released again after the commentary was received by the NPS. The opening for the public to review this version was from Dec. 21, 2012 until Feb. 14, 2013. Since this date, no revisions have been made nor have any new releases been made.

There is no announced end date for this project and when asked for comment the NPS referred to their latest release that announced February 14th 2013 as the latest date of action.

“The process is still on-going. We at the NPS are waiting for the final approval from our chain of command,” said Bob DeGross, chief of Interpretation and Public Affairs for the National Park Service Big Cypress Sector. “Once that is completed, then we would sign either a Record of Decision or a Finding of No Significant Impact. We have not done that as of yet.”

For the Public Scoping documents and detailed meeting notes as well as revised reports (that were open to the public for comment) see

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