Florida Bonneted Bat
Dustin Smith

Conservationists Sue Miami-Dade County for Water Park, Hotel, and Retail Development on Environmentally Sensitive Land

On October 4, 2022, Bat Conservation International, Tropical Audubon Society, and a citizen of Miami-Dade County filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade County for leasing environmentally sensitive county-owned land to a water park, hotel, and retail developer in direct violation of a voter-approved referendum that prohibits commercial use and development on such land.

The County entered into a lease agreement on June 23, 2022 with Miami Wilds, which seeks to build a 67-acre development on land that is located in the Richmond Pine Rocklands, which contains the largest and most biodiverse fragment of critically endangered pine rocklands outside of Everglades National Park.

The proposed development site, adjacent to Zoo Miami, is part of a critical area that supports dozens of federally endangered and rare animals, plants, and insects found nowhere else on Earth. It includes the endangered Florida bonneted bat, the Miami tiger beetle, the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly, the Florida leafwing butterfly, the Eastern Indigo snake, the Florida brickell-bush and the Carter’s small-flowered flax are also present around this land.

 
Melquisedec Gamba-Rios

At issue is the 2006 voter-approved Metrozoo Referendum that allows for commercial development on county-owned property provided it is on land that is not environmentally sensitive. The plaintiffs, including citizen Jose F. Barros, argue that the County violated the referendum because the number of federally endangered species that live and forage in the proposed development site show that it is clearly environmentally sensitive land.

The plaintiffs also say that the County violated Article 7 of the Miami-Dade County Charter by entering into a lease for the development of environmentally sensitive public park property without securing approval from Miami-Dade voters.

The plaintiffs are represented by pro-bono counsel
Enrique D. Arana, Brian A. Hart, and Patricia M. Patino of Carlton Fields in Miami.

Download the full complaint.
Download our FAQ info-sheet

Frequently Asked Questions

  • About the Florida Bonneted Bat

    • The Florida bonneted bat, the rarest bat in the United States, is found nowhere in the world but South Florida.
    • It is listed as a Federally endangered species by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the smallest distribution and population of any endangered bat species in the country.
    • Both urban settings and residential neighborhoods in South Florida provide critical habitats for Florida bonneted bats as they can be found in hammock habitats, tree cavities, tiled roofs, chimneys, and the gaps of wooden roofing in multistory buildings.
    • The Florida bonneted bat is an insectivorous bat which feeds on insect crop pests. Insectivorous bats save U.S. farmers billions of dollars by reducing crop damage and lowering pesticide use.
    • In natural or urban habitats, roosts are crucial for the Florida bonneted bats as they provide shelter for them to sleep, give birth, raise their young, and protect themselves from predators and extreme weather events like hurricanes.
    • Foraging areas, like roosting habitats, are critical for the survival of the Florida bonneted bat. The species needs large, dark open spaces in which to feed on their insect prey.
  • Fun Facts

    • Florida bonneted bats reside in small colonies, with a particular social structure called harems (a male with multiple females), ranging from just a few members to more than a dozen.
    • The Florida bonneted bat was described as a new species in 2004 and listed as a Federally endangered species in 2013 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    • The Florida bonneted bat is the largest bat in Florida and the second largest bat in the U.S.
    • Unlike other bats, the Florida bonneted bat’s vocalizations fall within the range able to be heard by humans.
    • Thanks to their long, narrow wings, Florida bonneted bats are agile, fast-flying bats that can fly higher than other bat species.
  • The Challenge

    • Extensive urbanization and land use change throughout the region is the main obstacle to survival for the Florida bonneted bat, drastically decreasing the availability of natural habitats and open spaces to forage for food.
    • Climate change is also limiting natural roost availability for the Florida bonneted bat due to increases in the frequency and intensity of major storms.
    • They are also partnering with local institutions and community groups in Miami-Dade County to raise awareness around conservation efforts that will help the Florida bonneted bat survive and thrive in one of the country’s most unique ecosystems.
    • As a consequence, the species’ population has been in decline for decades. Natural roosts are known in only a few locations across South Florida.
    • Misconceptions about bats in general can also lead to stigmas and community members seeing Florida bonneted bats as scary or dangerous creatures.
  • The Solution

    • Bat Conservation International (BCI) is leading critical research to better understand this unique and important species.
    • BCI is also partnering with local institutions and community groups in Miami-Dade County to raise awareness around conservation efforts that will help the Florida bonneted bat survive and thrive in one of the country’s most unique ecosystems.

Quick Facts

  • On October 4, 2022, Bat Conservation International, Tropical Audubon Society, and Miami-Dade County citizen Jose F. Barros sued Miami-Dade County for leasing environmentally sensitive county-owned land to a water park, hotel, and retail developer in direct violation of a voter-approved law.
  • The plaintiffs argue that the lease agreement with Miami Wilds, signed on June 23, 2022, is in direct violation of the 2006 voter-approved Metrozoo Referendum that allows for the development and operation of a water park on county-owned property provided it is on land that is not environmentally sensitive. 
  • The proposed development site — roughly 67 acres adjacent to Zoo Miami —  is part of a critical area that supports dozens of federally endangered and rare animals, plants, and insects found nowhere else on Earth, including the Florida bonneted bat.
  • The plaintiffs say that the number of federally endangered species that live and forage in the proposed development site show that it is clearly environmentally sensitive land.
    In addition to the Florida bonneted bat, the rare and unique species include: 
  • The plaintiffs are represented by pro-bono counsel Enrique D. Arana, Brian A. Hart, and Patricia M. Patino of Carlton Fields in Miami.

Download the full complaint