Monday, March 1, 2021

Press Release: Tiny Florida Key Deer Wins in US District Court

For Immediate Release
March 1, 2021
Contact:  Karimah Schoenhut, 202-548-4584, karimah.schoenhut@sierraclub.org
Diana Umpierre, 954-829-7632, diana.umpierre@sierraclub.org

** PRESS RELEASE**
TINY FLORIDA KEY DEER WINS IN US DISTRICT COURT
US Fish & Wildlife Service Ordered to Release Public Records

Belle Glade, FL – On Friday, February 26, 2021, a district court agreed with Sierra Club that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) was improperly refusing to make public an Endangered Species Act "Species Status Assessment" report regarding the endangered Florida Key deer. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the release of this "purely factual scientific report" pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. The court also found that the agency had failed to justify its refusal to release other records related to this report, such as communications from agency scientists regarding its contents. Release of this report will help shed light on the Fish & Wildlife Service's inexplicable rush during the Trump administration to strip the species of Endangered Species Act protections despite severe population losses from Hurricane Irma and screw worm disease, and the devastating impacts of sea level rise, which will extirpate the species absent drastic action.

After secretly initiating a status review process for the Key deer in 2017, FWS completed a status assessment report in January 2018. For over a year and half, despite concerns raised by its own staff regarding sea level rise impacts, FWS wasted scarce resources on developing a proposed rule to delist the Florida Key deer – and even drafted a "post-delisting" monitoring plan for the species. By August 2019, FWS was on the brink of announcing the proposed delisting when a last-minute peer review from the United States Geological Survey made it clear that FWS could not just write-off sea level rise impacts. Since that time, FWS apparently has been working on another proposed rule that would "down-list" the species to "threatened" instead of "endangered," a move that would open the door to reducing protections for the Key deer from killing and other forms of harm.

Karimah Schoenhut, Staff Attorney, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program said: “Under the Trump administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service shamefully attempted to shield its scientific assessment from public scrutiny while rushing forward with work to strip protections for the species. We hope that the Biden administration will see this as the red flag that it is and carefully re-evaluate this entire status review process prior to proposing any change to protections for the Key deer.”

“It's ridiculous that it took three years and a lawsuit for FWS to allow Key deer advocates, volunteers that give countless hours to protect the species, to finally see this report. Key deer advocates know, as does FWS, that Key deer could face extinction from climate change if inaction continues. Instead of hiding public records they should have been spending their energy to save a species.” said Diana Umpierre, Sierra Club Everglades Restoration Campaign Organizing Representative.



Florida Key deer photo:

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Florida Key deer
at the USFWS National Key Deer Refuge
at Big Pine Key (Photo by Aaron Umpierre)