Waterway Advocates was a signatory on the below letter calling for the full protection and restoration of wetlands and wildlife habitat in Big Cypress National Preserve.
Superintendent Tom Forsyth
Big Cypress National Preserve
33100 Tamiami Trail E
Ochopee, FL 34141
Submitted via email to Thomas_forsyth@nps.gov
and online via National Park Service portal at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov
Re: Comments on Proposal for Modification of Burnett Oil Co., Inc.’s Existing Plan of
Operations (9B Permit) for the Nobles Grade 3D Seismic Survey in Big Cypress National Preserve
Dear Superintendent Forsyth: The undersigned organizations appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Revised Compensatory Mitigation Plan to the 2016 Wetlands Statement of Findings, part of the Proposal for Modification of Burnett Oil Company, Inc.’s (hereinafter, “Burnett Oil”) Existing Plan of Operations (9B Permit) for the Nobles Grade 3D Seismic Survey dated November 8, 2021 (hereinafter, “revised mitigation plan” or “Proposed Action”).
We strongly urge the National Park Service (NPS) to require Burnett Oil to fully compensate for the wetland damage it caused during its Phase I oil exploration activities in Big Cypress National Preserve through more robust on-site mitigation in addition to fully restoring and revegetating all of the seismic survey lines it created (as required by federal and state permits) that still visibly remain today. The estimated 110-square mile area of damage caused by Burnett Oil’s exploration for oil in 2017 & 2018 remains today, over three years later – soils are compacted and rutted, and the damaged areas are less diverse and largely absent of cypress tree regeneration.
Given that NPS is undertaking (as indicated by the Proposed Action) an effort to revise Burnett Oil’s access permit and mitigation plan, we strongly urge NPS to utilize the current opportunity to develop a more robust revised mitigation plan and modified permit than the Proposed Action currently offers by undertaking the following:
conduct a systematic review of all technical reports on the areas damaged by Burnett Oil’s activities (including reports from non-applicant sources) that identify myriad reclamation and monitoring shortcomings, and make recommendations on how to fully reclaim and mitigate for the damage;
incorporate a detailed account of the aforementioned shortcomings, as well as accounting for time lag and risk factors and loss of endangered Florida panther habitat into a revised compensatory mitigation analysis and modified permit; and,
consider all evidence indicating Burnett Oil’s lack of adherence to numerous access permit conditions, and prepare a supplemental environmental analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that analyzes all of the damage for public comment.
A supplemental NEPA analysis to support modification of Burnett Oil’s access permit and compensatory mitigation plan should be developed in addition to requiring Burnett Oil to complete reclamation of the damage it caused by, at minimum, replanting cypress trees and revegetating the denuded seismic lines the company created (and then re-starting the monitoring period).
The damaged areas within the Preserve occur in wetlands located in the heart of the Everglades ecosystem and are also located near the Florida National Scenic Trail – a major recreational trail and access point – in addition to being squarely within otherwise pristine and eligible wilderness areas. Given the significant calls from members of the public and elected leaders in calling for NPS to fully restore damage that Burnett Oil caused, 6 we are deeply concerned that NPS has not made an effort in the Proposed Action to require restorative management actions commensurate with the wilderness character of the area in order to “correct past mistakes [and] the impacts of human use” as required by NPS Management Policy on Wilderness Preservation and Management, directly within the damaged areas of the Preserve. This damage remains visible to Preserve visitors today. The seismic lines left deep scars in the landscape that are readily apparent and that hydrologically alter the Preserve’s iconic dwarf cypress prairie habitats.
In order for Burnett Oil to correct the visible impacts in the Preserve - including the loss of over 500 of the Preserve’s namesake trees that were cut down during their oil exploration activities, combined with the overall lack of natural cypress regeneration (likely due to extensive soil compaction, rutting, and associated ecological impacts) – NPS should require Burnett Oil to revegetate the impacted areas, including replanting of native cypress trees. Replanting of native cypress trees should utilize saplings grown from Big Cypress seed stock and should be done to revegetate the denuded seismic lines at densities comparable to surrounding adjacent undamaged native habitat. Burnett Oil should thereafter restart the monitoring and maintenance period to ensure successful replanting, and all revegetation activities in the Preserve should be carried out without the use of any heavy machinery that may further intensify – rather than restore – existing impacts.
The enabling legislation of the Preserve directs the National Park Service to manage the Preserve “in a manner which will assure [its] natural and ecological integrity in perpetuity.” Proper management of the Preserve includes issuing such rules as “necessary and appropriate to limit or control the use of Federal lands and waters with respect to . . .exploration for and extraction of oil, gas, and other minerals . . . .” Taken together, and complemented by additional NPS policy, NPS is empowered with the authority to reject oil exploration activities that conflict with the Preserve’s primary conservation mandate. In light of NPS’s broad authority and stewardship responsibilities, we urge NPS to utilize the current opportunity to require Burnett Oil to fully restore the damage it caused in wetlands, eligible wilderness areas, and Florida panther habitat, including replanting, and to fully mitigate for the loss of wetland functions in the Preserve, including time lag and risk. Finally, any revised compensatory mitigation plan or access permit must be supported by a supplemental NEPA analysis made available for public comment.
The undersigned organizations appreciate your consideration of our concerns, comments, and recommendations.
National Parks Conservation Association
Natural Resources Defense Council
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Center for Biological Diversity
Coalition to Protect America's National Parks
Tropical Audubon Society
Bat Conservation International
Bear Warriors United Central Florida Jobs with Justice
Earth Ethics, Inc.
Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida
Florida Bay Forever
Florida Sierra Club
Florida Trail Association
Foundation for Florida Environmental Protection
Georgia Interfaith Power and Light
League of Women Voters of Collier County
League of Women Voters of Florida
Miakka Community Club
Night Sky Conservancy, Intl. Dark Sky Association Florida Chapter
Peace River Audubon Society
Progressive Democrats of Florida
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
Sierra Club Calusa Group
South Florida Wildlands Association
Stone Crab Alliance
Sustainability Leaders Initiative
The Amphibian Foundation
The Institute for Regional Conservation
Turtle Island Restoration Network