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GAME-CHANGER: What you may not be able to do inside Big Cypress Nat'l Preserve

Congressman Donalds is part of a bipartisan group against turning a large portion of Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County into a designated wilderness area.
Posted at 11:52 AM, Apr 26, 2024

BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE, Fla. — While many of us in Southwest Florida like to go out and enjoy our beautiful beaches and enjoy our sunshine, others just like to go out in nature. One of the best places to do that is Big Cypress National Preserve. But how we recreate and interact with this land could be changing on a federal level. Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley spoke to Congressman Bryon Donalds to find out what is going on.

US Congressman Byron Donalds April 2024
In April 2024, US Congressman Byron Donalds discussed why he opposed proposed changes for the Big Cypress National Preserve.

“These lands have been touched by human beings for centuries,” said Donalds. “To now go through some arbitrary process that says you cannot enter by federal degree makes no sense at all.”

Congressman Donalds is part of a bipartisan group against turning a large portion of Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County into a designated wilderness area.

The reason? A federally designated wilderness area is an area where people cannot enter or intervene. It would also affect how we maintain and recreate in this area.

“These lands are utilized by Floridians,” said Donalds. “We maintain these lands. We are actually doing our best to mitigate the invasive species that have been put on those lands in prior decades. All for the betterment of Florida overall.”

Managing the land on Big Cypress is something that i recently saw firsthand with a 13-thousand-acre prescribed burn – designed to improve wildlife habitat. This new declaration would likely eliminate those burns and their benefits.

Controlled Burn Big Cypress National Preserve
Only Fox 4 was there as trained firefighters conducted a controlled burn inside the Big Cypress National Preserve in April 2024.

“Look in California, one of the reasons they are constantly having these massive forest fires that destroy property,” said Donalds. “Obviously burn up tens of thousands of acres at a time, is because they do not manage the underbrush, they do not manage the lands. They just let it sit and act like everything is ok, that is simply not a reality of life.”

Florida Fish and Wildfire Conservation Commission is also concerned about how this affects their fight against the rising python population. Donalds shares this concern.

“The python population is expanding massively,” said Donalds. “So, if do not do anything and essentially leave it unchecked, that is going to impede on life of the citizens in Southwest Florida.”

There is also the human factor. If this change happens, members of the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes say the change will restrict access to ceremonial grounds and areas where the tribes have lived for generations. They currently have a petition against this action with nearly 45 thousand signatures. The petition adds that when similar areas were declared part of Everglades National Park originally, tribes and traditional villages lost over 99-thousand areas of reservation land.

“So, what we are really asking for is common sense to prevail, something on short supply in the Biden Administration,” said Donalds. “So, if it is Republicans and Democrats, members of the tibial communities, we all are asking them to cease and assist immediately.”

Big Cypress National Preserve swamp and grasses
The Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County is one of the area's true ecological treasures. So should people continue to be allowed to recreate within its borders, whether it's residents or native peoples, or should it become more restricted to better protect flora and fauna?

Fox 4 has reached out to the Department of Interior about the possibility of this change and has yet to hear back. If parts of Big Cypress National Preserve land is designated a wilderness area, it would join 17 other similar areas in Florida, including parts of “Ding” Darling and Island Bay National Wildlife refuge located on the Cape Haze Peninsula.