Gore And McKay Transform Historic Boondoggle Into A Boon For Bears

(06/17/1997) - Defenders of Wildlife today praised the efforts of the Clinton Administration and the state of Florida to protect the Florida black bear and the Florida panther and their surrounding Everglades habitat. Vice President Al Gore and Florida Lt. Governor Buddy McKay announced today that $50 million will be set aside to acquire south Florida land including Southern Golden Gate Estates (SGGE), Belle Meade and Fakahatchee Strand.

Defenders' Director of Habitat Conservation Robert Dewey declared, "We are delighted that the wildlife in Florida has triumphed over irresponsible development. Vice President Gore and Lt. Governor McKay today have today sent the message that they truly care about the Everglades and the species that call this special place home."

Gore and McKay attended a ceremony at Everglades National Park today to mark the release of a $25 million grant to the state for land acquisition. This amount, which will come from money allocated in last years' federal Farm Bill, will then be matched by an equal $25 million from the state of Florida. Famous for its well-known land scams, SGGE has long been credited with the origin of the phrase "I'll sell you swampland in Florida", indicating the presence of a scam. In the 1960's, unscrupulous developers lured families into purchasing property in these wetlands during the summer dry seasons. Not realizing they were purchasing land on a swamp, thousands of families were cheated out of their savings.

The tragedy of this scandal was not only economic; the scam also deprived bears, panthers and other endangered and threatened species of prime habitat. Much of the 53,000 acres of SGGE were drained, channeled, and graded for roads, which lead to outbreaks of severe wildfire and many other environmental problems. What was once excellent wetland habitat became marked by scars and devastating landscape.

Today's announcement marks the first step in restoring the area, allowing the purchase of the 40% of SGGE that remains in private ownership. SGGE, along with the other two properties, will become off-limits to development and will be given the chance to flourish as wildlife habitat.

"SGGE will provide an important wildlife corridor between the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, and between Big Cypress National Preserve and the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve," stated Dewey. "We now have a chance to transform this area from a source of human error to a place of natural refuge for black bears, panthers, and other wildlife. This is a great day for Florida species inhabiting this magnificent region and for the human inhabitants who cherish them."

**Launched in 1993, The Habitat for Bears Campaign, a joint effort between Defenders of Wildlife and the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club continues to work on black bear issues including land acqusition. For more information, please call 202-682-9400.**



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270