Two Florida Parks Named to List of Most Endangered

Date:   March 25, 2002

 Mary Munson, National Parks Conservation Association, 954-926-6327

Two Florida Parks Named to List of Most Endangered

Restoration Plan Uncertain; Oil Drilling Threatens Park Resources

Washington, D.C. - The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's leading park advocacy organization, today named Florida's Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve to its fourth annual list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks. This is the fourth consecutive year these parks have been listed.

"Many people think that the Everglades were saved when Congress passed the restoration plan," said NPCA South Florida and Marine Program Director Mary Munson. "This simply isn't true. The plan is only conceptual, and the parks face enormous challenges in getting this plan implemented, challenges that include funding, political support, and hijacking by interests that favor water supply and flood-control over water-use for the environment."

Water quality and the timing and flow of fresh water remain significant concerns to both park units. In addition, Big Cypress National Preserve faces degradation from a private company that plans to conduct exploratory oil drilling and seismic testing in the heart of the park's wild interior. The company's plan includes building miles of new roads, drilling an 11,800-foot exploratory well, and detonating dynamite charges in 14,700 holes to gauge shockwaves for evidence of oil deposits.

Although Congress approved a conceptual plan to help return the Everglades to a more natural state, the project faces immense challenges, including the yearly congressional funding process, state matching funds, the design and authorization of individual projects identified in the plan, and agriculture and development interests that want the projects to favor water supplies and flood control over park restoration . To avoid continued damage to Everglades and Big Cypress resources, the 40-year, $8-billion Everglades restoration project must be wisely planned and fully funded and continue to receive support from the White House and Florida's state government.

Everglades National Park, established in 1934, is the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the contiguous United States, providing sanctuary for threatened and endangered species and the largest foraging habitat and breeding ground for wading bird populations in the Southeast. More than 50 years of flood-control projects have diverted and drained water from the natural system, disrupting the park and threatening the future of the entire South Florida ecosystem. Wading bird populations have declined by 90 percent.

Big Cypress National Preserve is the ancestral home of the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians and was established as a park unit in 1974. The 729,000-acre wetland watershed is home to 27 threatened or endangered species, including the Florida panther. A private company that retained mineral rights in the preserve at its creation may initiate as many as 26 proposals to conduct exploratory drilling and seismic testing in a 41-square-mile area. If approved, damage and the possibility for significantly increased pollution in the preserve would skyrocket as a result of drilling and the vehicles and machinery needed in the operation. These problems come on top of the fact that the preserve already allows considerable swamp buggy use, hunting, and airboating, straining park resources.

"We are heartened by the president's and the governor's pledge to put the environment first during restoration," Munson said. "We hope this pledge helps remove the parks from the list in the future, but we need to see more than promises."

The other parks named by NPCA today are Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming), Mojave National Preserve (California), Federal Hall National Memorial (New York), Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee/North Carolina), Ocmulgee National Monument (Georgia), Glacier National Park (Montana), Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pennsylvania), and Big Bend National Park (Texas).


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