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North Florida Field Office

News Release


For Immediate Release

January 14, 2004
Release #: 001-04
Media Contacts:
Florida: Chuck Underwood, 904-731-3332
Alabama: Mike Groutt, 251-441-6630
Georgia: Mike Hobbs, 706-613-9493 ext. 36

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE REAFFIRMS DECISION
FOR 1998 FLORIDA BLACK BEAR PETITION FINDING

After re-examining its 1998 determination not to list the Florida black bear as threatened, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today reaffirmed the determination. The notice of this action was published in today’s Federal Register.

Under the Endangered Species Act, five criteria are considered when the Service decides whether to list a species as threatened or endangered. As the result of a legal challenge to the 1998 determination, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the Service to re-examine one of the five criteria used in deciding whether to list the Florida black bear. According to that criteria, if regulatory mechanisms in place to protect the bear had been found inadequate, listing the bear as threatened may have been warranted.

"As directed by the court, a new examination of the regulatory mechanisms has shown that Federal and State laws, regulations, and policies which existed at the time of the finding were, and continue to be, adequate to prevent levels of death, habitat loss and habitat degradation that could threaten the species with extinction," Southeast Regional Director Sam D. Hamilton said.

The ESA defines "threatened species" as any species likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

In response to a citizen petition to list the bear as threatened, the Service found that listing the Florida black bear was not warranted because healthy bear populations, ranging between an estimated 1,600 to 3,000 individuals, occur in secure habitat in four areas: Apalachicola National Forest and adjacent lands, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge–Osceola National Forest and adjacent lands, Ocala National Forest and adjacent lands, and Big Cypress National Preserve and adjacent lands.

Several environmental organizations challenged the Service’s determination in 1999. Subsequently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld most aspects of the Service’s original 1998 finding, but directed the Service to reexamine and clarify its previous decision regarding the "inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms" listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act.

A subspecies of the wide-ranging American black bear, the Florida black bear occurs only in Florida and the coastal plain areas of Alabama and Georgia. Generally found in forested areas, it eats mostly plant foods, such as berries and acorns. Because black bears prefer areas that are remote from human activities, the species now occurs primarily on and adjacent to public conservation lands such as national forests, national wildlife refuges, and State-protected lands.

The Florida black bear is listed as threatened by the State of Florida. The species is a game animal in both Alabama and Georgia. These designations provide for State regulation of hunting and protection against illegal killing of bears.

More than 374,000 acres of bear habitat have been purchased in Florida by State and Federal governments since the early 1990s, within areas supporting four core bear populations. Total public lands supporting bears have grown to more than three million acres and have helped secure the population. Agencies entrusted with the care of bears are managing these public lands. These agencies include the Service, USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, Eglin Air Force Base, Georgia Forestry Commission, Florida’s water management districts, Florida Division of Forestry, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Additional information is available online at: http://www.fws.gov/northflorida. It may also be obtained by writing to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Fla. Black Bear, 6620 Southpoint Dr. South, Suite 310, Jacksonville, FL 32216.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses more than 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.


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Last modified January 14, 2004