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Let’s Get Bambi!

Count on Florida for every excess of the real estate meltdown. Miami New Times picks up a story out of the Florida Keys: someone is slaughtering the diminutive key deer on Big Pine Key.

Like the spotted owl and the snail darter, federal protections for the key deer in the Florida Keys have long been the target of a pro-business, anti-environmental bias undergirding Chamber of Commerce enthusiasm for paving over the state.

New Times reports: “This past November 9, a Port Pine resident phoned authorities to report a dark truck had slammed into a deer on Park Avenue. When Steven Berger, a muscular cop with a salt-and-pepper crewcut, arrived on the scene, he immediately suspected foul play. For one, there were marks where the driver had turned suddenly off the asphalt toward the doe. Then there was the gory scene.

“The neck was torn in half, the deer was dragged for 30 yards, and as she came apart, there was a lot of blood on the ground,” reports Berger, the only full-time wildlife officer between Key Largo and the Marquesas. “Organs were exposed and lying there.”

No sooner had that scene been cleaned up than a far more mysterious case took shape. On December 16, a half-mile away in an empty lot on Landers Street, behind a stand of acacia, milkweed, and sea grape, a neighbor discovered the three skulls. They were in a circle, about seven feet apart.

Splotches of putrid skin hung from two of the skulls, one of which bore hacksaw marks on the neck. Berger believes the pair was killed sometime this past summer. The third one was bleached white from the sun, so that deer likely died earlier. All were male; one had an impressive 18- to 20-inch rack of antlers.”

In the New Times story, a local resident has the last word. His views represent the antagonism of Florida Keys residents and business interests who hate how legal protections for the key deer are restricting development– “While Beal doesn’t support killing the deer, he sympathizes with the perpetrators. “The [government] has gone overboard in protecting the deer,” he says. “The more you get people upset about development, the more this is going to happen.”

But Beal is wrong.

The key deer have been in the cross-hairs of development interests for decades. Florida Keys property rights advocates wrapped in the American flag, the Constitution, and conservative Republican politics used the key deer as a poster child to rile up residents about development interference in development.

Back in the late 1980’s, wise use movement activists from the Rocky Mountains–funded by wealthy sugar barons–used the key deer as a rallying cry to stifle environmental protection throughout the state, putting regulators on guard and environmentalists on the defensive.

The Florida Keys fragile environments are the tail that wags the Everglades “dog”. Big property owners, sugar barons, and land speculators reserved the right to convert swampland into sugar cane, or sugar cane into rock mines, or rock mines into “lakes” for town homes: they weren’t going to let a little deer to gain traction in the public imagination, not when Bambi made such a good freaking target.

So Mr. Beal would need to be corrected: there isn’t “any more” that is going to happen, not after the record of the last 30 years.

The only change on Big Pine to account for the senseless murdering of key deer is the same change that is affecting the Florida Keys and the whole state of Florida: the worst collapse in real estate since the Great Depression.

“Finally, on January 16, a third neighbor was driving at night near the corner of Coconut Palm Street and Kyle Boulevard, about 250 feet from the nearest home, when she spotted a fallen deer. The animal had been hit by a car and “looked sad when the headlights shined on it.” Police called ecologist Jason Schmidt, who headed to the scene. “The sheriff’s deputy said it was routine roadkill, but when I got there, it was anything but routine,” he says. Schmidt found a long and distinctive spear – of the sort shot from a spearfishing gun – had pierced the right side of the deer’s neck.”

What kind of person shoots a key deer with a spear fishing gun? Someone who is either insane, or, consumed by anger.

Anger, perhaps, that you can’t use your home as an ATM machine any more, or that falling home values put you upside down, sucking in water where there used to be air and freedom and riches, just sign on the dotted mortgage line.

It couldn’t be our conservative politics that created such a mess. It couldn’t be our love of God and real estate that makes us feel like we are drowning.

It has to be something else that is bringing us to our knees. Grab the spear gun. Let’s get Bambi.

ALAN FARAGO of Coral Gables, who writes about the environment and the politics of South Florida, can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

 

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Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net

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