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2007-03-31
Tarpon Springs, FL. Wal-Mart Removes Endangered Tortoises From Superstore Site

Endangered species in your way? Rent a backhoe. That's what Wal-Mart did this week in Florida. A Wal-Mart backhoe began removing an endangered species from the proposed site of a superstore in Tarpon Springs, Florida -- before they even have their building permits. The site has been a source of controversy for several years. The Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs took the city to court for approving the supercenter project on a 3-2 vote. In March of 2006 a three judge panel in the 6th. Circuit Court for Pinellas County ruled against the Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs, and the group, running out of funds, had to end their legal challenge. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee gave Wal-Mart a permit in April, 2005. authorizing the retailer 'to take gopher tortoises, their eggs and their burrows within its development boundaries where such taking is incidental to development activities." Wal-Mart was required to contribute to the acquisition of 2.17 acres of tortoise habitat by paying $15,943 to the FWC Land Acquisitions Trust Fund. At the hearing Wal-Mart said they would relocate the gopher tortoises. Now activists in Tarpon Springs have issued the following call to action: "Tell Tarpon Springs City Commissioners: Don't Tolerate Illegal Treatment of Gopher Tortoises Within City Limits! Last Friday (March 23), a Wal-Mart lawyer and several contractors (including biological consultants and a backhoe operator) entered the site of the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs. Their purpose was to remove and relocate the gopher tortoises living on the site in preparation for development, which they had a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) to do. The only problem: that permit explicitly states that they cannot move any tortoises until they have all other required development permits, and Wal-Mart is missing such permits from the City of Tarpon Springs, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and others. That means Wal-Mart was trying to eliminate tortoises from the site even though they might never actually be able to build there. The Wal-Mart team continued its removal attempts nearly all day -- destroying burrows and apparently causing the deaths of some tortoises in the process -- while local activists called the FFWCC and the City of Tarpon Springs repeatedly and pleadedwith them to intervene to prevent the illegal relocation from going forward. Finally, at the end of the day, an FFWCC field agent showed up at the site in the midst of the Wal-Mart team's desperate attempts to leave the site with eight captured tortoises. The agent eventually forced the Wal-Mart team to return the tortoises to the site, but the stresses suffered by the captured tortoises and the lost lives of those which were apparently killed cannot be undone. This Tuesday, join the Sierra Club, the Friends of the Anclote River, and the Wal-Mart Alliance for Reform Now to protest Wal-Mart's reckless and shameful treatment of gopher tortoises and demand the City investigate Friday's incident. We will be gathering at Tarpon Springs City Hall at 5:45pm to protest. The Tarpon Springs City Commission meeting begins at 6:30pm; at that time, all present will beencouraged to enter City Hall and address the Commissioners during the meeting's public comment period. This is what Tarpon Springs City Commissioners need to hear: Wal-Mart attempted to illegally remove gopher tortoises, and Wal-Mart's biologist indicated to an activist at the site that several had died in the process. Wal-Mart tried to remove tortoises in preparation for development even though it doesn't have a new site plan or building permits from the City -- does Wal-Mart take the City's approval for granted? The City must ask Wal-Mart why it attempted to relocate tortoises without having the required City permits, and what happened on the site that day -- were tortoises indeed killed? If Wal-Mart does not provide satisfactory answers, the City must launch a formal investigation into the incidents of Friday, March 23."

What you can do: Wal-Mart opponents said Wal-Mart's actions to forcibly remove gopher tortoises prior to receiving their building permit was "despicable." The group added, "Wal-Mart has treated the citizens and the wildlife of our community with a lack of respect for four years and enough is enough.What gives them the right to come into our community, remove our natural creatures, destroy our natural habitat, take our revenues, disrupt our commerce and take the money to a bank in Bentonville, Arkansas? We say NO. We won't tolerate this! Please come to this very important hearing at 5:45 pm Tuesday and pass this along to all your friends. Readers anywhere in the country are urged to call the FFWCC to ask them to investigate this case. Call Colonel Julie Jones, Chief of the FFWCC Division of Law Enforcement (850-488-6251), and Major Dennis Post, Southwest Regional Chief of Law Enforcement (863-648-3200). The next time Wal-Mart starts talking about its environmental track record, remember the gopher tortoises of Tarpon Springs. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by "Tarpon Springs."










 
 
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