[Federal Register: November 2, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 212)]
[Page 62256-62257]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Interagency Florida Panther Response Plan

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability: plan and environmental assessment (EA); 
request for public comment.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce an EA 
for our Interagency Florida Panther Response Plan. Our EA considers 
alternatives for managing conflicts between humans and the endangered 
Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi).

DATES: We must receive any written comments on the EA at the Service's 
Field or Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) on or before December 3, 2007.

ADDRESSES: Layne Hamilton, Refuge Manager, Florida Panther and Ten 
Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuges, 3860 Tollgate Blvd., Suite 
300, Naples, FL 34114, or Southeast Regional Office, Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 420, Atlanta, GA 30345 (Attn: 
Elizabeth Souheaver).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Layne Hamilton, Refuge Manager, 
Florida Panther and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuges (see 
ADDRESSES), at 239/353-8442, extension 227 (telephone), or Ms. 
Elizabeth Souheaver, Area IV Supervisor (see ADDRESSES), at 404/679-
7163 (telephone) or 404/679-4082 (facsimile). For information on how to 
request documents for review or to submit your comments, see ``Public 
Document Review and Comment.''

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We announce an EA for our Interagency 
Florida Panther Response Plan. Our EA considers alternatives for 
managing conflicts between humans and the endangered Florida panther 
(Puma concolor coryi). One of the rarest large mammals in the United 
States, this species is protected as endangered under the Endangered 
Species Act, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.; Act), and Florida 
statutes. Because of the panther's potential for extinction, conflicts 
with humans raise issues that require careful consideration and action 
to conserve the species and protect the public.
    Florida panthers occur primarily in southern Florida, with most 
individuals residing south of Lake Okeechobee. Recovery actions over 
the past 25 years, particularly genetic augmentation initiated in 1995, 
enabled the population to grow from 30-50 animals in 1995 to 80-100 
animals in 2005. At the same time, the human population of Collier 
County, where most panthers reside, more than doubled in 14 years 
(1990-2004), from 152,000 to 306,000. Because of increases in numbers 
of both people and panthers, urban-suburban areas now interface with 
panther habitat, increasing the possibility of human-panther 
interactions. Management guidelines are needed to provide more 
definitive guidance to respond and manage panther and human 
interactions and to educate the public about appropriate behavior when 
living and recreating in panther habitat.
    In accordance with mandates established under the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), we are required to consider a full 
range of reasonable alternatives for addressing and responding to major 
public issues, management concerns, and resource conservation 
opportunities associated with issues arising from human-panther 
    We analyzed three alternatives. Alternative A (Preferred Action) 
proposes managing human-panther interactions with an interagency 
response team and an established plan that prioritizes public safety 
and evaluates each situation by analyzing panther behavior and human 
activity. Alternative B (No Action) does not utilize an interagency 
team or a response plan, but responds to human-panther interactions on 
a case-by-case

[[Page 62257]]

basis without established protocols or guidelines. Alternative C 
includes a response team and plan that differs from Alternative A by 
providing rigid protocols based on frequency of panther sightings and 
proximity to human-occupied structures, without considering panther 
behavior or influences of human activity on panther behavior.
    We have coordinated this proposal with the National Park Service, 
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and local Indian 
tribes. We announced the availability of our draft EA in the May 25, 
2006, Federal Register (71 FR 30156). We invited the public to submit 
written comments on the draft guidelines and response plan by July 24, 
2006. Additionally, to improve the quality and credibility of the 
scientific information, we conducted a formal peer review process for 
the draft plan. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 
NPS, Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, Seminole Indian Tribe, and 
the Service provided lists of possible peer reviewers, from which we 
selected six peer reviewers. All but one peer reviewer provided 
comments. We received five letters from the public and/or environmental 
community and one letter from a tribe. We have included responses to 
specific comments in the EA appendices.
    Tribal and public comments; peer reviews; and discussions between 
us, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and NPS helped us 
identify several issues and concerns. Our revisions to the EA and plan 
include the following: (1) Discussion of cultural resource impacts to 
the local tribes; (2) elimination of the first two chapters of the 
Response Plan (Chapter 1: Florida Panther--Status, Biology and 
Recovery; Chapter 2: Living with Florida Panthers); (3) reorganization 
of the plan to reduce redundancy and clarify management actions; (4) 
separation of the section on depredation from the other human-panther 
interaction classifications (sighting(s), encounter(s), incidents, 
threat, attack), because depredations are distinctly different from 
direct human-panther interactions; and (5) inclusion of risk factor 
with each classification.

Public Document Review and Comment

    If you wish to review the EA, you may obtain a copy on the Internet 
at http://www.fws.gov/verobeach. You may also obtain a copy by writing 

the Service's Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta (see ADDRESSES.) 
Please reference the EA associated with the Interagency Florida Panther 
Response Plan in such requests. Documents will also be available for 
public inspection by appointment during normal business hours at the 
Regional Office in Atlanta (see ADDRESSES.)
    If you wish to comment, you may submit comments by any one of 
several methods. Please reference the EA associated with the 
Interagency Florida Panther Response Plan in such comments. You may 
mail comments to the Service's Regional Office in Atlanta (see 
ADDRESSES), or you may comment via electronic mail (e-mail) to 
pantherresponseplan@fws.gov. Please also include your name and return 

address in your e-mail message. If you do not receive a confirmation 
from us that we have received your e-mail message, contact us directly 
at either telephone number listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT. Finally, you may hand deliver comments to either Service 
office listed under ADDRESSES.
    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.

    Authority: We provide this notice under NEPA regulations at 40 
CFR 1506.6.

    Dated: September 7, 2007.
Cynthia Dohner,
Deputy Regional Director, Southeast Region.
[FR Doc. E7-21579 Filed 11-1-07; 8:45 am]