MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A tract of land will soon be developed in Miami-Dade County, but some people are concerned that the new Walmart slated for it will lead to a major ecosystem disruption.

The land is 88 acres of endangered pine rockland and has been considered one of the world’s rarest forests.

Laura Reynolds with the Tropical Audubon Society says, “Our imperiled Land is being replaced by Walmart, it’s sad.”

Reynolds says even though only half of the 88 acres that borders Zoo Miami to the west will be developed is a tragedy for the wildlife.

The property was sold by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer.

In addition to Walmart, an LA Fitness center, Chik-fil-A and Chili’s restaurants along with about 900 apartments will be built.

However, the developer, Ram, agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

Another 35 acres adjacent to the property will also be developed by Ram.

The plans are not sitting well with environmentalists and biologists.  A board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, told the paper he wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent to demand an investigation.

Jennifer Possley with Fairchild Tropical Gardens and a team were given then okay to rescue what they could.

Possley told CBS4’s Cynthia Demos, “We’ve rescued 30 species so far but there are about 200 in there.”

Environmentalists are upset that UM would sell the land for development.

“For an institution of higher-learning I would have thought they would have been a little more sensitive to something that exists nowhere else in the world,” said Dennis Olle with the Tropical Audubon Society.

UM issued this statement: Prior to the sale to Ram, the University executed a covenant running with the land in favor of Miami-Dade County concerning …..the Pine Rockland … Ram ….will be required to abide by the Covenant and Management Plan thus ensuring the preservation. 

Ram’s CEO told CBS4 news partner, The Miami Herald, the land at Coral Reef Drive and Southwest 127th Avenue was chosen because it is a place people can easily walk to from nearby neighborhoods.

It was originally part of the 2,100 acre Richmond Naval Air Station and was mainly undeveloped since the University of Miami opened its South Campus in 1946.

UM tried to develop the land into an academic village in 2003, but the plans fell through.

The land is home to rare plants and butterflies – including the Bartram’s hairstreak that is expected to be named to the endangered species list this summer.

Federal officials have said they are closely watching the project, but would only be able to get involved if federal money or property is involved, according to the paper.  Sanctions can only be issued if endangered animals such as the eggs of a butterfly are killed.

The Miami-Dade county Natural Resources Planning Section Chief, Craig Grossenbacher, told the Miami Herald, his hands are tied too because of an ordinance that allows officials to require forest protection only when the land is developed.

He added, getting the land set aside as a preserve is better than none and a nearly 40-acre preserve is the largest the county has taken on.

Large swaths of the land no longer qualify as forest because during the years UM owned the land, outside species invaded much of the land and slash pines which blocked sunlight and choked out some species of plants.

Officials believe restoring the land would not be difficult, but for now, the tract that is home to rare species is just a short time away from being a new Walmart.

WATCH: Cynthia Demos’ Report

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)


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