Federal plans would risk extinction of Florida panthers and key deer

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Taking a page straight from the Trump administration’s anti-conservation playbook, late last year the Biden administration quietly advanced a plan that would put two of Florida’s most beloved and endangered animals on the fast track to extinction.

Despite President Biden’s directive that all federal agencies follow the best science available, buried in the administration’s work plan that outlines priorities for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there is a proposal to remove protections for the Key deer and the Florida panther.

This proposal flouts the undeniable reality that these animals face increasing habitat loss that threatens their existence. The best available scientific information clearly indicates that both species need more protection, not less.

Following:Panther listing status may change as the FWS is expected to publish a population review soon

With only around 200 individuals remaining, Florida panthers are considered among the most endangered big cats on Earth. Their limited habitat in southwest Florida is hemmed in and fragmented by highways and sprawling residential development, resulting in the death of 21 people by vehicles in 2021.

And in the first 9 days of 2022, two more panthers have been struck and killed by vehicles this year – one in Glades County last Sunday; another in Collier County on January 2.

A female Florida panther trips a camera trap set by USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA photographer Andrew West at the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed Tuesday, March 26, 2019. The panther likely has kittens, Dave Onorato said, Florida panther research scientist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  There is a pacifier visible in the photo.  It's unclear how the notch got into his ear.

The panthers also face the prospect of industrial oil development in their largest undisturbed, contiguous habitat in the Big Cypress National Preserve and the impending approval of habitat-destroying residential and commercial development in an area that scientists have determined to be in need of preservation to protect the species from extinction.

Equally troubling are the threats to the Florida Key deer.

Scientists have noted that the smallest deer in the United States – found only in the Florida archipelago – are critically endangered by disease, collisions with vehicles and rising water levels. the sea that will flood their homes decades from now.

The proposed gutting of protections for both animals reveals an alarming push by federal wildlife regulators to achieve a predetermined outcome, politically determined rather than based on science and common sense.

In the case of the Florida panther, an email from the Fish and Wildlife Service reveals a carefully choreographed plan to weaken or completely eliminate the panther’s protections, giving staff scientists marching orders to achieve a pre-arranged outcome, which has been shamelessly prioritized by the Biden administration.

The politicization of key deer management is equally bad.

No reasonable person, let alone an independent scientist, could ever conclude that an endangered miniature deer found only on low islands could survive rising seas and recommend that they be stripped of their protections by law. endangered species.

The Service’s proposal here is so outside of accepted science that it begs the question: Why is the agency doing this? Does he bow to South Florida developers who want to destroy habitat, build more wildlife-killing roads, and expand fossil fuel resources in the wild? Or is it part of Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director Leo Miranda’s reckless and unscientific plan to remove or downgrade 30 protected species each year?

This proposal indicates that these are not innocent errors on the part of the Service, but signs of deep-rooted systemic problems in an agency that demonstrates its willingness to manipulate science and facts on the ground to achieve results. predetermined policies.

Above all, the Service’s proposal reminds us that extinction is a choice.

Elise Bennett is a Florida-based senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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