On Friday, December 5, over 50 activists gathered for a rally outside of the Briger Forest in Florida’s Palm Beach Gardens. The group was protesting the Scripps Phase II project, which is currently clearing the 681-acre forest for the construction of a bio-tech city, complete with animal testing labs and shopping malls.
The Briger Forest is a unique mosaic of scrub, flatwoods and wetlands. Florida has more endangered and threatened species than any other continental state, and the habitat found in the Briger Forest is increasingly rare, as so much of Florida’s southeastern corridor has been paved over for development. There are at least 13 species of plants and animals listed for protection likely present in Briger.
Altering the rush hour traffic and neighboring communities to the destruction happening right behind the treeline, Friday’s crowd sang chants, flew flags, swung banners, and displayed signs in solidarity with the wildlife inside. The two-hour protest was completely peaceful, with the exception of one element: the police. Despite the fact that this was a legal gathering of families, students, activists and children engaging in free speech activities, Palm Beach Gardens police—many undercover—surrounded the protest, blocked traffic, followed vehicles, covertly filmed protesters, prohibited participants from accessing public roads, and used loudspeakers to shout their opinions and drown out the chants of the crowd.
This was not surprising to Everglades Earth First!ers, due to past experience, and in light of a Palm Beach Post article released the day of the protest. In the article, titled “Palm Beach Gardens Chief: Briger protest could endanger people,” the police chief claimed that he was concerned about Everglades Earth First! causing harm to businesses and individuals, based on the fact that we posted a link to a book called Ecodefense on our website. The police chief is referring to the fact that an article written by the Fire Ant about a claim of sabotage in the Briger Forest was shared on evergladesearthfirst.net last June, and that the tactic referred to in the article was also mentioned in the book Ecodefense. When EEF! reposted the article, we included a preface stating “this tactic is not one that Everglades Earth First! would engage in.” If we are to follow the Police Chief’s logic, we would come to the conclusion that he himself is a radical environmental activist, since he has browsed our website, clicked on links, and shared content he found with a local newspaper.
The purposes of the Police Chief’s accusations seem to be two-fold. First, they’re an attempt to discredit Everglades Earth First!—a reaction to the fact that our demonstrations and messaging are steadily gaining large amounts of public support. Second—and much more importantly—these accusations are intended to draw attention away from the actual crimes being committed in the Briger: the illegal, unpermitted clearing of rare forest.
On November 13, we published an article outlining the current clearing of the Briger Forest, which is taking place without proper permits and despite a lack of adequate assessments of environmental risks the project poses. Flaws and failures in the permitting process include: (1) endangered species habitat cleared for an access road which does not exist on the original permit from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD); (2) missing basic details about land clearing in the City of Palm Beach Gardens operations permit, such as how many acres were cleared for this unplanned access road; (3) violations of permit conditions requiring adherence to a habitat management plan which requires relocation of 100% of listed species on site.
Not to mention, the permit’s validity is currently under challenge in the 4th District Court of Appeals, where a pro-se petitioner is fighting for the Due Process right of an administrative hearing which was denied to her by the SFWMD. In the meantime, habitat is being destroyed by road building and wetland drainage occurring as you read this, while the police and other government entities do everything they can to hide that fact from the public.
Since the last article was published, members of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC) have filed complaints about the illegal clearing to the SFWMD. The SFWMD responded by pretending that the clearing wasn’t actually taking place, which they tried to prove by taking a photo of the forest from the area where the clearing was permitted to begin days later—despite the fact that the essence of the complaint was that the clearing was occurring where and when it wasn’t supposed to.
The fact that they continue to argue that no clearing had occurred before the permitted time is preposterous—almost surreal. We had photo and video evidence of excavators destroying the Briger from the inside, which was completely disregarded. And our November 7 blockade successfully prevented heavy machinery from entering the forest. We very much doubt the earth-destroyers were headed in there to do some early morning birdwatching…
By our estimates, they have almost completed removing the 58 acres of trees, shrubs and burrows sectioned off for the first round of clearing. We are deeply saddened by the destruction of this unique forest, but we are determined to stop Scripps and Palm Beach Gardens from following through on their plans to level the entire 681 acres. While it is a tragedy to lose this habitat, if we can keep this land unpaved, the surrounding forest will be able to reclaim it in time and possibly return it to suitable habitat for the protected species who dwell nearby. We will continue to fight through the legal system, and to imagine halts of construction; but to make those efforts count, it is vital that we garner support from those in the community. Last week’s protest brought us more outside support, and was perhaps the largest Briger Forest protest since the campaign began. But we can’t stop there.