Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan
Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement
Collier, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties, Florida
The National Park Service developed this plan to provide guidance on the management of off-road vehicle (ORV) use within Big Cypress National Preserve. This plan is called for and directed by the General Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement: Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida (NPS 1991), and is required as part of a litigation settlement.
The plan presents and analyzes two alternatives for managing ORV use within the 582,000 acres in the original boundary of the preserve. The no action alternative analyzes the effects of continuing to apply the current management program. The proposed action would adopt a new program that focuses on the resource protection mandates of the National Park Service while providing reasonable recreational access.
The analysis evaluated the effects of the alternatives on natural resource and visitor experience impact topics. Compared to the no action alternative (continue current management), the analysis found that implementing the proposed action would result in substantial beneficial effects to surface water flow, soils, and vegetation. These beneficial effects would result from limiting ORVs to designated roads and trails, which would produce a major reduction in the spatial extent of the preserve affected by ORVs. The visitor experience for ORV users would be affected by the limitations on their ability to access certain places by vehicle, and by the need to conform with new rules and permit requirements. Many visitors who do not use ORVs would perceive a benefit from reduced impacts to the scenic quality of the preserve.
For more information concerning this plan contact:
John J. Donahue, Superintendent
Big Cypress National Preserve
HCR 61 Box 110
Ochopee Florida 34141
(941) 695-2000, ext. 310
United States Department of the Interior • National Park Service
The Final Recreational Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement addresses the management of recreational off-road vehicle use within the original 582,000 acres of Big Cypress National Preserve. The preserve’s general management plan (NPS, 1991) provided overall guidance for ORV management, but recommended the preparation of a more detailed ORV management plan. This off-road vehicle management plan was prepared in response to that recommendation. This planning effort is tiered off of the general management plan and incorporates new information gathered and new issues raised by the public since 1991. The purpose of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) is to analyze the alternatives presented in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
In addition, the off-road vehicle management plan is being prepared in accordance with the 1995 settlement agreement negotiated between the Florida Biodiversity Project (FBP) and several agencies and bureaus. These include the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of the Army, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The settlement agreement was a result of a lawsuit filed by FBP, concerning the management of ORVs within the preserve.
Big Cypress National Preserve was established on October 11, 1974 (16 USC 698) "in order to assure the preservation, conservation, and protection of the natural, scenic, hydrologic, floral and faunal, and recreational values of the Big Cypress Watershed in the State of Florida and to provide for the enhancement and public enjoyment thereof." The boundary of the preserve was expanded by 147,000 acres in 1988, with administration of this addition by the National Park Service beginning in 1996. Management guidance for the Addition Lands was not included in the general management plan (NPS 1991) and will be addressed in a separate general management plan. ORV management guidance in the Addition Lands will be prepared as part of this future planning effort.
The enabling legislation states that the preserve, as a unit of the national park system, is to be managed in a manner that will ensure its "natural and ecological integrity in perpetuity." The legislation further states the management of the area should be in accordance "with the provisions of the Act of August 25, 1916" (NPS Organic Act). The enabling act allows for the use of off-road vehicles, but stipulates that this use will be controlled in a manner that does not impair the resources of the preserve. The legislative history of the preserve states that "While the use of all-terrain vehicles must be carefully regulated by the secretary (of the interior) to protect the natural wildlife and wilderness values of the preserve, the bill does not prohibit their use along designated roads and trails" (U.S. House of Representatives, 1973; U.S. Senate, 1974).
The management plan and supplemental environmental impact statement consists of five chapters. The first chapter details the purpose and need for the plan, legislative mandates and special commitments, management objectives, and planning issues. The second chapter describes the two alternatives considered, and the alternatives considered but dismissed from further analysis, and summarizes the key differences between the alternatives and associated impacts. Chapter three discusses the aspects of the environment that would be affected by implementing the management plan. The environmental consequences of implementing the alternatives are presented in the fourth chapter. Finally, chapter five summarizes the public involvement in this planning process and consultation and coordination with federal, state, local and tribal governments.
The 1991 general management plan and environmental impact statement evaluated four alternatives, all of which included management of ORV use within the preserve. Three of these alternatives were considered but dismissed from further analysis in this plan. Only the general management plan proposed action was further considered. In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act regulations that require a no-action alternative be evaluated in order to provide a baseline for comparison among the alternatives, the general management plan proposed action alternative represents this no action alternative.
The no action alternative, which reflects the current management strategy, and the proposed action are the two alternatives developed and evaluated in this document. These alternatives were based on the National Park Service legal mandates, the general management plan/environmental impact statement, and issues identified during the scoping process for the plan.
The proposed action applies the precautionary principle in managing recreational ORV use within the preserve. Although the National Park Service has used the best available scientific information available to prepare this plan, this database is not complete. The research section of the proposed action outlines where more information is needed. Where the effects of an action are unknown, the proposed management actions would favor the protection of the preserve’s natural and cultural resources. The proposed action would be a model for sustainable management of a high-impact recreational activity in a sensitive area.
The key features of the proposed action include the following.
ORVs would be allowed only on designated trails and would depart only from designated access points.
Sensitive areas would be closed immediately to all ORV traffic, including all marl prairies, specific Bear Island Unit trails, zone 1 of the Stairsteps Unit, and Cape Sable seaside sparrow habitat in the Stairsteps unit.
Temporal closures would be instituted including restriction of ORV traffic between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., a 60-day seasonal closure, as well as closures triggered by high or low water levels.
Three permits would be required to operate an ORV in the preserve including a vehicle permit ($50.00), an ORV operator’s permit (free), and a daily use backcountry permit (free).
Up to 2,000 annual permits would be issued by random draw.
A mandatory education course would be required to obtain an ORV operator’s permit.
Vehicles must meet specifications.
Impacts of ORV use would be monitored and management actions would be taken as necessary, based on monitoring results.
Areas impacted by ORV use would be restored.
Research would be conducted to support ORV management within the preserve.
Fifteen access points would be designated. ORVs would travel only on designated trails throughout the preserve. The Deep Lake Unit and Loop Unit would both remain closed to all ORV traffic, as they are in the no action alternative (continue current management).
Guidance for the types of ORVs allowed in each management unit is given in the proposed action. These designations are based on the type of terrain found in the various areas of the preserve and to provide for resource protection. The Corn Dance Unit and Turner River Unit would be opened to swamp buggies and all-terrain cycles (ATCs). Bear Island Unit would be opened to swamp buggies, ATCs, and street-legal four-wheel drive vehicles. In the Stairsteps Unit, Zone 2 would be opened to swamp buggies and ATCs; Zone 3 would be opened to swamp buggies, ATCs and airboats; and Zone 4 would be opened only to airboats.
The number of annual vehicle permits that would be issued would be reduced from 2500 to 2000, in accordance with the 1990 biological opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the general management plan.
The proposed action is based on the concept of adaptive management, which is a dynamic process. As the proposed action is implemented, additional information would be obtained through monitoring, research and experience. As the knowledge base expands, the National Park Service would respond by adapting management actions that assure the highest protection of the preserve’s resources.
All aspects of the proposed action would be implemented within ten years. Closure of sensitive resource areas would be implemented immediately. Some dispersed use of ORVs would initially be allowed outside of marked sensitive areas until the designated trail system is in place, and only if monitoring results indicate that no further resource impacts are occurring.
Limiting ORV use to designated trails would substantially reduce the spatial extent of the preserve impacted by ORVs. Implementing the proposed action would result in long-term benefits to water resources, soils and vegetation. The plan may also benefit endangered and threatened species, including the Cape Sable seaside sparrow and the Florida panther. Some ORV users may experience adverse impacts due to a slight increase in permit costs, and the time required to complete the education course. Restricting travel to designated routes may alter the use patterns of some ORV users. Other visitors (non-ORV users) would experience beneficial impacts by reducing the visual impacts of ORV use and lessening the potential for user conflicts in the backcountry of the preserve. The development of the trail system may eventually create greater access to the backcountry of the preserve for all visitors.
No Action Alternative (Continue Current Management)
The no action alternative continues the current management strategy. Under this alternative the National Park Service would adopt a strategy combining opened areas and designated trails for ORV use. ORV users would continue to have unlimited access from approximately 70 informal locations. ORVs would be required to travel on designated trails within the Bear Island Unit and a small portion of the Stairsteps Unit. ORVs would be allowed to disperse within the Turner River Unit, Corn Dance Unit and portions of the Stairsteps Unit. Deep Lake Unit and Loop Unit would remain closed to all ORVs. Prairies and other sensitive areas would continue to be open to dispersed ORV use.
This alternative does include limitations on the types of vehicles allowed within management units or portions of these units. Zone 1 of the Stairsteps Unit has been closed to airboats and Zone 4 in this unit has been designated for airboats only, except for some limited trails within the Lostmans Pine area. The Corn Dance Unit and Turner River Unit are opened to all permitted vehicle types. Bear Island Unit is closed to airboats.
The National Park Service would continue to permit 2,500 vehicles annually for use within the preserve. However, further consultation with the USFWS would be required, since the biological opinion prepared for the 1991 general management plan was based on 2,000 annual permits. To obtain an annual permit ($35.00), all vehicles would be required to meet certain specifications.
The current management under this strategy has been primarily reactive to unacceptable conditions. ORV impacts monitoring would be ad-hoc and would rely primarily on staff observations. In recent years, the National Park Service has made several closures of all or portions of the preserve in response to water levels. These closures were intended to reduce stress to wildlife during high water conditions, and to reduce impacts to soils and vegetation under low-water conditions.
During this planning effort, it has been revealed that this alternative would not meet the NPS legal mandates or comply with policy for managing the preserve.
The implementation of this alternative would result in long-term adverse impacts to water resources, soils, and vegetation. The spatial extent of impacts is expected to increase under this alternative, with major impacts to soils, prairies and marshes. The Cape Sable seaside sparrow may experience long-term adverse impacts by the alteration of the vegetation structure it needs for nesting, foraging and roosting. The alternative may impact the Florida panther by increasing the potential for human disturbance and the degradation of habitat. This alternative restricts backcountry access in the preserve to a limited number of individuals who possess specialized motorized equipment.