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Keeping Species Common in Florida
The Endangered Species Act supports successful conservation
by Elsa M. Haubold and Brian Branciforte
Photo Credit: Kevin Enge
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), we recognize the many successes it has delivered in Florida and beyond. Some may consider only the number of species recovered and removed from the ESA as success, while others suggest that success is demonstrated by the thousands of species that have not gone extinct since the enactment of the ESA. We believe there are many other measures of success, including conservation efforts that help stabilize species' status and eliminate the need for federal listing.
State agencies are the foremost partners in implementing conservation measures that prevent the need to list species as federally endangered or threatened under the ESA. There are numerous examples about how states have cooperated to develop effective partnerships among non-governmental organizations, state and federal agencies, industry, and private citizens to successfully preclude the need list species like the swift fox (Vulpes velox) and black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus)—two excellent examples from the past. Current examples of efforts to stabilize populations to avoid the need to list include the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis), and the eastern population of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Leveraging other programs like the Natural Resource Conservation Service's recent Working Lands for Wildlife initiative with state agency programs has resulted in greater conservation for these at-risk species.
Preventing the need to list plants and animals as endangered or threatened under the ESA is the primary goal of the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program. In 2000, recognizing the need to conserve species and their habitat before they become too rare or costly to restore, Congress charged each state and territory with developing a State Wildlife Action Plan—a proactive plan outlining actions that are needed to conserve species over the long-term. State Wildlife Action Plans are necessary in order to receive funds through the State Wildlife Grants Program.
Dovetailing with Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative, which stewards State Wildlife Grants, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) created a comprehensive imperiled species management system that recognizes all federally listed species in Florida. The system also identifies species that are at-risk of extirpation and classified as state threatened. Conservation efforts are necessary to help these species gain a solid footing on the road to recovery so federal listing is not required. Additionally, FWC and partners identified a list of 974 Species of Greatest Conservation Need. This list outlines Florida's most imperiled animals, as well as those that may become imperiled in the future without intervention.
Photo Credit: Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative
Maintaining up-to-date information on the life history, status, trend, population dynamics, and management needs for species is a challenge, but it is fundamental to stabilizing species that are declining in the Sunshine State. Continuing research and monitoring is necessary if practical and effective conservation measures are to be developed, implemented, and assessed for effectiveness. A total of 631 Species of Greatest Conservation Need are considered to have population and life history data gaps, or were of low or unknown status and a declining or unknown trend. In the first five years of implementing the State Wildlife Action Plan, the FWC and partners relied on State Wildlife Grants to obtain information on the data gaps on more than 250 species through 47 projects. These projects have also helped remove or reduce threats to species, stabilize populations, and manage habitat.
State Wildlife Grants are responsible for the reversal of fortunes for the gopher frog (Rana capito aesopus), a stout-bodied frog found throughout most of the Florida peninsula. The frog was listed as a species of special concern in the state. State Wildlife Grant funded surveys from 2006 to 2011 recorded gopher frogs in 121 ponds on both public and private lands. Additionally, 83 previously unknown breeding ponds have been identified in several studies since 2004. This new status information was used in the decision not to list the species in the state. While the Service has not yet reviewed the status of the species, biologists are optimistic that federal listing will not be required for the species' survival.
Another recent example of the states' effectiveness as a partner in managing wildlife trust species is the lower Florida Keys striped mud turtle (Kinosternon baurii), a small aquatic turtle that inhabits brackish and freshwater ponds in the Florida Keys. The species, which was also state listed, was petitioned for federal listing in 2010. The results of a biological status review funded by a Conserve Wildlife Tag Grant from the Wildlife Foundation of Florida determined this population of turtles was not genetically distinct from the relatively common peninsular population, and the FWC concluded the species did not warrant ESA protection. In January, the petition to list the species was withdrawn.
The ESA has made important contributions to conserving our nation's flora and fauna over the past 40 years. There are a number of ways success can be described that go beyond traditional measures. Leading the way are partnership efforts that implement conservation measures to prevent species from becoming at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. States play a principal role in these efforts.
Elsa M. Haubold, Ph.D., Species Conservation Planning Section Leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, can be reached at email@example.com or 850-488-3831. Brian Branciforte, the State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, can be reached at Brian.Branciforte@myfwc.com or 850-617-9476.
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