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Walmart To Be Built On Endangered Species Habitat In Florida

After standing for ages as a safe-haven for a whole host of species found nowhere else on earth, decades of human encroachment have reduced Florida's Pine Rockland forest to a tiny fraction of what it once was. And now, after 88 acres of the rare ecosystem was sold to developers, that already dwindling forest is about to get a little smaller -- and the animals that call it home are getting the boot.

The land was previously owned by the University of Miami, but was purchased earlier this month by a Palm Beach County developer, Ram, who intends to build apartments, restaurants and a 158,000 square-foot Walmart, edging out endangered species in the process. Meanwhile, the puzzling sale has conservationists and biologists up in arms.

When, in 2004, the university was considering constructing on that same plot of land, a team of rescuers were called in to assess just what creatures were living there in case they needed to be relocated. What they found was a treasure trove of biodiversity, including indigo snakes, the Federally protected bonneted bat, two rare butterfly species up which may soon be listed as endangered, like the Bartram's hairstreak and the Atala hairstreak, which was once pushed to near-extinction.

"There was so much material there that we had to kind of prioritize," said field biologist Jennifer Possley, to the Miami Herald. "It was acres and acres."

And soon those species, already pressed by depleting habitat, will be further strained once the development gets underway. As the law requires, some portion of the recently sold land must be preserved; 40 acres of this 88 acre plot will be protected, but that's enough of a loss to do significant damage to fragile species.

"You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how," says Dennis Olle from the North American Butterfly Association. "This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM."

Federal authorities say that they are limited in what they can do to stop the construction, so now they can only watch as the bulldozers begin to move in.

The unique animals that live South Florida's dwindling Pine Rockland forest have already been pushed to brink from decades of habitat loss, and if Walmart's developers have their way, those species are about to lose even more. Join the Dodo in calling on Florida lawmakers to intervene to protect this fragile forest and its inhabitants.