SUNSHINE STATE NEWS
Florida Congressional Representatives Urge Obama to Designate Habitat for Florida Panthers
By Kevin Derby
Members of the Florida congressional delegation urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to add more protection for Florida panthers, calling on him to create a critical habitat designation for the state animal.
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., led the letter which was also signed by Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Curt Clawson and Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Patrick Murphy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
“The Florida panther is one of the most endangered species in the world as less than 180 of them survive today,” the representatives wrote Obama. “As you know, the two greatest threats to the Florida panther are the loss of habitat and automobile-related deaths, both of which are caused by increased development in environmentally sensitive areas. The best available science suggests that current lands in conservation do not provide enough suitable habitat area to support even the limited number of existing panthers. Further, on November 28th, two more panthers were killed by cars.
“As members of the Florida delegation, we are writing to request your support in establishing a critical habitat designation for the endangered Florida panther,” they added. “The Florida panther was listed as an endangered species in 1973, but critical habitat has never been established, even though the Endangered Species Act includes a requirement for the designation of critical habitat for endangered species. In other words, the Florida panther is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, unfortunately its home is not.
“It is of great importance to designate a critical habitat not only because it would preserve and encourage the growth of the current population of Florida panthers, but also because it would help to protect other valuable environmental resources, such as wetlands, aquifer-recharge areas, drinking water supplies and the habitat of other endangered species,” the representatives wrote. “At the top of the food chain, Florida panthers help keep feral hog numbers in check and deer, raccoon and other prey populations balanced and healthy. Moreover, a designation of critical habitat does not mean that no further development is allowed in an area, it simply requires additional review when projects requiring federal permits would impact habitats considered essential to preventing the Florida panther from going extinct.
“We urge you to ensure the continued existence of the Florida panther and the preservation of Southwest Florida’s natural resources and unique character by supporting the designation of critical habitat for the endangered Florida panther,” they wrote in conclusion. “Thank you for your time and consideration. The decision to take action now will provide a historic opportunity for protecting the Earth’s most endangered ‘umbrella species’ – the Florida panther.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is in charge of critical habitats and, on its website, defines the role of development in those areas.
“A critical habitat designation does not necessarily restrict further development,” the FWS noted. “It is a reminder to federal agencies that they must make special efforts to protect the important characteristics of these areas.
“Only activities that involve a federal permit, license, or funding, and are likely to destroy or adversely modify the area of critical habitat will be affected,” the FWS added. “If this is the case, the Service will work with the federal agency and, where appropriate, private or other landowners to amend their project to allow it to proceed without adversely affecting the critical habitat. Thus, most federal projects are likely to go forward, but some will be modified to minimize harm to critical habitat.”
Back in 2013, there were 160 Florida panthers in the wild. As low as that number is, it was far worse in the 1970s when the population dropped to around 20.
See more at: http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/florida-congressional-representatives-urge-obama-designate-habitat-florida-panters#sthash.cV0O2Y2h.dpuf