Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress National Preserve

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Big Cypress National Preserve is a United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 National Preserve
National preserve
National Preserve is a designation applied by the United States Congress to protected areas that have characteristics normally associated with U.S. National Parks but where certain activities not allowed in National Parks are permitted. These activities include public hunting, trapping, and oil...

 located in southern Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Miami
Miami, Florida
Miami is a city located on the Atlantic coast in southeastern Florida and the county seat of Miami-Dade County, the most populous county in Florida and the eighth-most populous county in the United States with a population of 2,500,625...

. The 720000 acres (2,913.7 km²) Big Cypress, along with Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, became the first national preserves in the United States National Park System when they were established on 11 October 1974.

Geography and history of establishment

Big Cypress borders the wet freshwater prairies of Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is a national park in the U.S. state of Florida that protects the southern 25 percent of the original Everglades. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, and is visited on average by one million people each year. It is the third-largest...

 to the south, and other state and federally protected cypress country in the west, with water from the Big Cypress flowing south and west into the coastal Ten Thousand Islands region of Everglades National Park. When Everglades National Park was established in 1947, Big Cypress was originally intended to be included; however, because the land had not been purchased from its private owners, Big Cypress was ultimately released from the park system.

Human use and impact

Ecologically, the preserve is slightly more elevated than the western Everglades, and Big Cypress has historically served as home to Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

, including the Miccosukee
The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida are a federally recognized Native American tribe in the U.S. state of Florida. They were part of the Seminole nation until the mid-20th century, when they organized as an independent tribe, receiving federal recognition in 1962...

 and Seminole
The Seminole are a Native American people originally of Florida, who now reside primarily in that state and Oklahoma. The Seminole nation emerged in a process of ethnogenesis out of groups of Native Americans, most significantly Creeks from what is now Georgia and Alabama, who settled in Florida in...

 tribes, as well as early settlers who hunted herons and egrets to supply feathers to hat-makers in New York and Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, and poachers who hunted American Alligator
American Alligator
The American alligator , sometimes referred to colloquially as a gator, is a reptile endemic only to the Southeastern United States. It is one of the two living species of alligator, in the genus Alligator, within the family Alligatoridae...

s and Crocodiles
American Crocodile
The American crocodile is a species of crocodilian found in the Neotropics. It is the most widespread of the four extant species of crocodiles from the Americas. Populations occur from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of southern Mexico to South America as far as Peru and Venezuela. It also lives...

 to near extinction. The timber industry also operated in the area, and built railroads to haul out most of the cypress
Taxodium is a genus of one to three species of extremely flood-tolerant conifers in the cypress family, Cupressaceae...

 ecosystem's old growth trees
Old growth forest
An old-growth forest is a forest that has attained great age , and thereby exhibits unique ecological features. An old growth forest has also usually reached a climax community...

. Portions of the Big Cypress were also farmed for winter vegetables.

The search for oil in Florida began in 1901, but with no success. After almost 80 more dry holes had been drilled throughout the state, Humble Oil Company (later to become Exxon) discovered Florida's first producing oil well on September 26, 1943 in the northwest portion of what is now Big Cypress National Preserve. The wells currently produce about 20 barrels of oil per day.

Big Cypress differs from Everglades National Park in that the Miccosukee and Seminole people have permanent rights to occupy and use the land, that the Native Americans and hunters may use off-road vehicles, and home and business owners have been permitted to keep their properties. As in Everglades National Park, petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

 exploration was permitted within Big Cypress, but plans are under way to buy out the remaining petroleum leases. However Governor Rick Scott has stated that he is open to expanded drilling in the Everglades.

In the 1960s, Native Americans, hunters, and conservationists succeeded at fighting an effort to move Miami International Airport
Miami International Airport
Miami International Airport , also known as MIA and historically Wilcox Field, is the primary airport serving the South Florida area...

's international flights to a new airport in the Big Cypress area, and then campaigned to put Big Cypress back into the National Parks System. Although construction of the new airport had already begun, it was stopped after one runway
According to ICAO a runway is a "defined rectangular area on a land aerodrome prepared for the landing and take-off of aircraft." Runways may be a man-made surface or a natural surface .- Orientation and dimensions :Runways are named by a number between 01 and 36, which is generally one tenth...

 was completed, and it is now known as the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport
Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport
Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport is a public airport located 36 miles west of the central business district of Miami, in Collier County, Florida, United States. It is owned by Miami-Dade County and operated by the Miami-Dade Aviation Department...


Flora and fauna

The preserve is the most biologically diverse region of the terrestrial Everglades, and while dominated by a wet cypress forest is host to an array of flora and fauna, including mangrove
Mangroves are various kinds of trees up to medium height and shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics – mainly between latitudes N and S...

s, orchids, alligators, venomous snakes like the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti
Agkistrodon piscivorus
Agkistrodon piscivorus is a venomous snake, a species of pit viper, found in the southeastern United States. Adults are large and capable of delivering a painful and potentially fatal bite. When antagonized they will stand their ground by coiling their bodies and displaying their fangs...

) and eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus
Crotalus adamanteus
Crotalus adamanteus is a venomous pit viper species found in the southeastern United States. It is the heaviest venomous snake in the Americas and the largest rattlesnake. It featured prominently in the American Revolution, specifically as the symbol of what many consider to be the first flag of...

), a variety of birds, and the Florida panther
Florida Panther
The Florida panther is an endangered subspecies of cougar that lives in forests and swamps of southern Florida in the United States. Its current taxonomic status is unresolved, but recent genetic research alone does not alter the legal conservation status...

, (Puma concolor couguar) and the Florida Black Bear
Florida Black Bear
The Florida black bear is a subspecies of the American black bear that has historically ranged throughout most of Florida and southern portions of Alabama and Georgia. The large black-furred bears live mainly in forested areas and have seen recent habitat reduction throughout the state...


The preserve is also home to nine federally listed endangered species
Endangered species
An endangered species is a population of organisms which is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters...

 including the West Indian Manatee
West Indian Manatee
The West Indian Manatee is a manatee, and the largest surviving member of the aquatic mammal order Sirenia . The West Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus, is a species distinct from the Amazonian Manatee, T. inunguis, and the West African Manatee, T. senegalensis...

, the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi
Indigo snakes are a genus of large non-venomous colubrid snakes found in Southeastern United States, Central America, and South America. Three to four species are currently recognized.-Description:...

), and the Florida Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis pratensis
Sandhill Crane
The Sandhill Crane is a large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird references habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska's Sandhills in the American Midwest...


Visiting Big Cypress

A number of campgrounds in Big Cypress are tailored to motor vehicles, where tourists planning overnight stays can park their vehicles and ORVs in designated areas. The southern terminus of the Florida National Scenic Trail
Florida National Scenic Trail
One of eleven National Scenic Trails in the United States, the Florida Trail is a footpath spanning from Big Cypress National Preserve to Fort Pickens at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach...

 is located in Big Cypress, and provides hiking opportunities during the winter months. For nature lovers who don't mind getting their feet wet, hiking throughout Big Cypress is enjoyable in all seasons, with most of the cypress country more hospitable to hikers than the dense sawgrass
Cladium is a genus of large sedges, with a worldwide distribution in tropical and temperate regions...

 prairies of the central Everglades. Some of the most beautiful wading and walking can be found in cypress strands and prairies between the Loop Road and the Tamiami Trail
Tamiami Trail
The Tamiami Trail is the southernmost of U.S. Highway 41 from State Road 60 in Tampa to U.S. Route 1 in Miami. The road also has the hidden designation of State Road 90....

. Because alligators are numerous and often large, wading through the cypress country requires constant alertness. Private walking and hiking tours are also available, including those from resident artist Clyde Butcher
Clyde Butcher
Clyde Butcher is an American photographer known for wilderness photography of the Florida landscape.-Background:Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Clyde Butcher led a nomadic childhood with his parents until eventually settling in Southern California at the age of 18. He attended California...

 and others.

The preserve's visitor center offers an educational video about the surroundings and rangers often lead hikes in the dry winter months, as well as canoe trips and bicycle tours.

Controversy over off-road vehicles

Touted as a "recreational paradise" by the Department of the Interior, Big Cypress was created in part to accommodate access with off-road vehicles (ORVs) by the hunters and the Miccosukee and Seminole people who had worked to protect Big Cypress from drainage and development. However, scientists and conservationists have noted an increase in ORV recreation that prompted the National Park Service in 2001 to proactively manage ORV recreation and to reduce 400 miles (643.7 km) of primary trails within the preserve, despite persistent calls for more from hunters and ORV enthusiasts.

According to a 2001 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey
United States Geological Survey
The United States Geological Survey is a scientific agency of the United States government. The scientists of the USGS study the landscape of the United States, its natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten it. The organization has four major science disciplines, concerning biology,...

, "ORV use in Big Cypress National Preserve (BICY) has impacted wildlife populations and habitats through modifications to water flow patterns (direction and velocity) and water quality, soil displacement and compaction, direct vegetation damage, disturbance to foraging individuals, and, ultimately, overall suitability of habitats for wildlife."

Despite this, park officials generated controversy in 2006 after announcing a new study to determine whether the recreational benefit of more trails is worth the risk of additional damage to the ecosystem.

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