For Immediate Release
Michael Robinson [Center for Biological Diversity] (575) 534-0360;
Ann Hauck [Council of Civic Associations] (608) 238-0539;
Kirsten Stade [PEER] (202) 265-7337
Bid to Save Vanishing Florida Panther Habitat
Legal Petition Filed With Feds to Protect 3 Million Acres from Development
WASHINGTON - The endangered Florida panther needs 4,860 square miles - roughly 3
million acres - protected as critical habitat in southern Florida to
save it from extinction and recover the species, according to a new
scientific petition submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by
the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER), and Council of Civic Associations, Inc..
"Development and tradeoffs invariably leave the Florida panther
with less room to roam," said petition author Michael Robinson with the
Center, who is also the author of an authoritative history of federal
policy toward predators. The Center's entry into conservation efforts
for the Florida panther adds a new element to the decision-making
process underway at the Fish and Wildlife Service on a petition
previously filed by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. "We work on
hundreds of endangered species from Alaska to Maine. None are more
endangered than the Florida panther. It is teetering on the brink of
extinction in a sea of encroaching housing developments and roads."
Only approximately 100 to 120 Florida panthers survive in a single
breeding population in Collier, Lee, Hendry, Miami-Dade, and Monroe
counties. Male panthers also roam northward across the Caloosahatchee
River to other areas in Florida and even as far as west-central
Georgia, where one was shot last year. But in recent decades no females
have been sighted outside of South Florida. Originally, Florida
panthers were native across a broad swath of the southeastern United
Added Robinson: "There is a very small window of opportunity to save
the panther. If we don't map out and permanently protect all lands
necessary for the great cat's survival and recovery immediately, it
will go the way of the dusky seaside sparrow and Caribbean monk seal -
two Florida species that have winked out forever in our lifetime."
Critical habitat is defined in the Endangered Species Act as the
areas necessary for the recovery of an endangered species. Research
shows that animals and plants with critical habitat designated for them
are recovering twice as fast as those without it.
Florida panther is being driven to extinction splayed across the
bumpers of cars speeding between gated golf course communities and new
megacities sprawling across what have been its ancestral hunting and
breeding grounds," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose
organization represents agency scientists who have charged scientific
fraud to aid development to the detriment of the panther. "The only
thing that will stiffen the spine of the Fish and Wildlife Service to
do its job is a legal mandate to protect the habitat essential to the
survival of the panther."
The Florida panther has been on the endangered species list since
1967, but its habitat has been insufficiently protected. The Florida
Panther Recovery Plan (2008) and today's petition identify three areas
needed for protection: a "primary zone" where panthers currently live
and reproduce, a "secondary zone" of adjoining areas that panthers
sometimes roam, and a "dispersal zone" consisting of a narrow travel
corridor between developments where panthers traverse the
Caloosahatchee River to reach more distant areas and potentially set up
"Going to court may be a necessary step because the Fish and
Wildlife Service is a thoroughly broken agency and Congressional
oversight is almost nonexistent," said Ann Hauck, president of the
Council of Civic Associations. "Irresponsible development is killing
the very values that make Florida special and, at this rate, panthers
will only be seen on our personalized license plates."
Florida panthers are a subspecies of the puma, or mountain lion,
with subtle differences in skull shape from other pumas. They are
uniquely adapted to a hot, humid climate and habitats that differ from
those in the West. Adult male Florida panthers weigh an average of 116
pounds, and females weigh 75 pounds.
Through petitions and litigation, the Center has obtained more than
100 million acres of critical habitat nationally, for endangered
species ranging from elkhorn and staghorn corals off the Florida coast
to Atlantic salmon in Maine and eiders in Alaska; On September 1, 2009,
a Center lawsuit garnered protected habitat for the smalltooth sawfish
over more than 840,000 acres of watery habitat along Florida's
southwestern coast. And on September 3, the Center sued the Fish and
Wildlife Service to gain critical habitat for another Florida animal,
the Cape Sable seaside sparrow. The Center has filed more than 500
lawsuits on behalf of endangered wildlife and won success in 93 percent
of its cases.
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