A federal judge ordered airboat ride operations in Big Cypress National Preserve to shut down and chided Park Service officials for burying staff reports of environmental damage in the Everglades ecosystem. Attorney Juan Vargas, who represented Miccosukee suing the government, called the Aug. 24 decision a great victory for the environment." Permits for three existing airboat businesses near Everglades City, on the marshy fringes of the southwest Florida preserve, were suspended. Experts say prop wash is defoliating mangrove trees, a legally protected haven for exotic water birds; boat channels are widened and deepened by frequent use, and manatees and other wildlife are driven out by the boat traffic and noise, Vargas said. A Park Service attorney said the government hadn't yet determined how to respond, and boat operators had received no official notice of the court order. The suit was brought by the tribe, which has repeatedly sued the federal government and won over what it claims is lax stewardship of the Everglades water system and environment. The Miccosukees operate airboats in the Everglades outside the park and preserve, and claim the right on first refusal for commercial permits held by the three operators.
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