The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Fish & Wildlife Service in Florida: Portrait of a Failed Agency

Obama Pick Piecemeals Florida Panther and Other Endangered Species to Extinction


Sam Hamilton, the man tapped to run the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service, presided over rampant destruction of open space vital to
Florida's fragile and fraying web of wildlife, according to documents
posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). In order to justify his agency's approvals of waves of
development, Hamilton enabled FWS managers to skew science, terrorize
scientists and drive out whistleblowers.

A compelling summary of Hamilton's record over the past dozen years
as FWS Southeast Regional Director was compiled by the Council of Civic
Associations, Inc. (CCA), a not-for-profit network of more than 70
civic groups in South Florida. CCA delivered its report to top Interior
officials on May 26, 2009, less than two weeks before the White House
announcement on choosing Hamilton.

The CCA report touches on many subjects and species but its summary
of FWS actions compounding the major threat to the acutely endangered
Florida panther - habitat loss - is especially revealing:

  • Despite the loss of more than 3 million acres of panther
    habitat to development during the past 15 years, FWS has yet to
    designate a single acre of critical habitat to protect the panther from
    further intrusions;
  • In December, 2007, at the request of
    developers, FWS shrank the panther consultation area by nearly 900,000
    acres, an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, meaning that the
    agency would not even need to review new construction in this large
    zone. Then in 2008, FWS concluded that there was not enough habitat
    remaining to allow the panther to recover in Florida; and
  • FWS
    is now encouraging a new developer-financed "Panther Protection" plan
    to develop another 45,000 acres of panther habitat in Collier County

One result of this sprawl is that scores of panther are being run
over by vehicle traffic on roads penetrating deeper into panther
country. In 2009, partial numbers show five of the six panthers were
killed by cars.

"In Florida the Fish & Wildlife
Service has abetted a developer orgy at the expense of the wildlife it
was supposed to shield," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.
"Under Hamilton, the Service's motto is 'Even More'."

PEER surveys of FWS scientists in Hamilton's region reflect high
levels of distrust and uncertainty about whether honest reporting of
biological findings will be tolerated. In addition, PEER represented a
key FWS panther biologist who in 2005 successfully showed that the
agency had engaged systematic scientific fraud to justify its approvals
of mega-construction projects as having no negative impact on the

"Florida has become a horror show for wildlife biologists," Ruch
added. "After the very difficult Bush years, we had hoped for a
director to turn this embattled agency around rather than leave it on

Read the CCA report

View the Florida panther mortality tables

See June 26, 2009 FWS letter reaffirming refusal to designate panther critical habitat

Look at the Florida Protection plan to develop another 42,000 acres

Examine Hamilton record on science and the Endangered Species Act

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.