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Watchdog group continues push for wildlife protection

Citizens for Sanity wants to halt all development in the county until wildlife protection laws are passed.

Pasco County growth watchdogs at Citizens for Sanity pressed ahead Monday with their bid to force the county to produce a comprehensive wildlife protection ordinance, appealing a circuit judge's ruling to the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

Citizens for Sanity attorney Thomas Reese said the appeal does not affect their old target, Tampa developer Don Buck, or his 1,200-home Oakstead project in Land O'Lakes.

The Land O'Lakes action group had sued to block Buck's development, but agreed to drop the case this month and swore off future challenges in return for promises from developers to establish a continuous wildlife corridor across the length of the subdivision.

Reese said Monday the group's appeal does not violate the agreement with Oakstead developers and said Buck's attorneys were advised Citizens for Sanity would continue their fight to force Pasco County to develop environmental mitigation laws.

During the battle against Oakstead, Circuit Judge Stanley Mills rejected the part of the lawsuit designed to force the county to pass wildlife-protection regulations, finding the group was in no position to speak for all Pasco residents..

As part of its suit, Citizens for Sanity sought to block development throughout the county until Pasco enacts a wildlife protection program.

But Reese said his clients continue to feel they have the right to challenge the county for not enacting rules that protect wildlife from being encircled by development and run out of the county.

The county should oversee the large developments aimed at central Pasco and ensure that wildlife buffers are linked so that animals are not segregated by roads and homes. Having large, connected areas of wildlife would help everything from bears and deer to the lowliest of plants, Reese said.

"You can't do all this piecemeal," Reese said. "You need a plan that shows these corridors."

Reese said county officials have assured him they are working on a plan to show wildlife refuges, but the appeal is just to keep the options open for Citizens for Sanity.

"We're just taking this up to make sure they continue," Reese said.

He said the appeal is likely take about nine months.

_ Information from Times archives was used in this report