Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Florida Panther endangered status review could spell trouble under Trump

Florida Panther
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it will review whether Florida panthers are still an endangered species. The review, which is required every 5 years under the Endangered Species Act, comes amid growing calls from hunters and ranchers to take the big cats off the endangered species list in response to population growth. Though the population has increased from perilously low numbers due to the protections provided by the Endangered Species Act, its numbers and distribution are still far too limited to secure the Florida panther from extinction.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has increased its estimate of the Florida panther population to as many as 230 adults, most of them in Southwest Florida.

Sierra Club Florida and other state wildlife protection organizations have long worked to protect the Florida panther’s population through land conservation and its listing as an endangered species.
“If Donald Trump's US Fish and Wildlife Service removes endangered species status for the panther, it would open the door to the intentional slaughter of Florida's big cats. We won't let this happen!" said Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone.

The current federal recovery plan for Florida panthers requires at least two breeding populations of 240 panthers each before the panther can be listed as threatened instead of endangered; three such populations are required before the panther can be taken off the list altogether. In March,  FWC downgraded the status of the manatee from endangered to threatened.

Despite its seeming “comeback,” the relatively small population of panthers continues to be decimated by cars.  In 2015, a record 30 panthers were hit by cars and killed. In 2016, 32 were killed by cars, and the total number of panther deaths combined was 42 (road kills and other causes).

As part of the status review, new information may be submitted about population trends, habitat conditions, and threats until August 29.  Sierra Club’s legal team will be submitting a detailed legal comment letter, Jackalone added.

Deadline to submit is August 29. The review considers the best scientific and commercial data available since the last review, which was in 2010. No public comment workshops have been announced.  Submit updated information to  David Shindle at david_shindle@fws.gov or fax (772) 562–4288 or mail to: South Florida Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 12085 State Road 29 S, Immokalee, FL 34142

Further reading: 

Federal officials to review endangered status of Florida panther, Tampa Bay Times, 7.3.17
Geneticist says Florida panther still deserves endangered species protection, Tampa Bay Times, 7.8.17
Editorial: Florida panther should remain on endangered species list, Tampa Bay Times, 7.7.17