Final Environmental Assessment for Interagency Florida Panther Response Plan Available
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 14, 2008
Layne Hamilton, Florida Panther NWR, 239-353-8442, Ext. 227
Ken Warren, South Florida Ecological Services Office, 772.562.3909, ext. 323
Tom MacKenzie, FWS, (678) 296-6400, Tom_MacKenzie@fws.gov
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the availability of a final Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Interagency Florida Panther Response Plan.
The response plan establishes guidelines for responding to and managing potential interactions between people and Florida panthers, and for educating the public about appropriate behavior when living and recreating in panther habitat.
The final Environmental Assessment and the plan are at: http://www.fws.gov/verobeach/images/pdflibrary/R4FWS_Panther%20EA.final.pdf. The response plan is included in the assessment as Appendix C.
In a related development, the Service plans to release the final version of the updated Florida Panther Recovery Plan in the Federal Register before the end of calendar year. This plan outlines future goals and initiatives designed to stabilize and recover the population of this endangered species.
“The Service, the National Park Service, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are ensuring public safety by establishing protocols for responding to possible encounters between humans and panthers,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “At the same time, we also are trying to address the conservation needs of this critically endangered animal mainly found south of Lake Okeechobee.”
"This response plan is an outstanding result of the combined efforts of biologists and many stakeholders, who are working hard to recover the endangered Florida panther," said Ken Haddad, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Our strong partnership is resulting in progress towards recovery of the Florida panther and the response plan is an important part of the work that is underway."
Florida’s urban and suburban growth has expanded into panther habitat. Concurrently, recovery actions increased the Florida panther population from 20 to 30 animals to about 80 to 100 animals in 2007. Meanwhile, Florida’s human population grew from 14.2 million people in 1995 to an estimated 17.8 million people in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This situation increases the possibility of interaction between people and panthers. Definitive guidelines and instructions were needed to allow for panther conservation and public safety.
While there has never been a documented attack by a Florida panther on a human, panthers have killed livestock and pets.
The draft EA was published in May 2006 and a revised version was published in November 2007 for public comments. Comments were also solicited from the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A peer review of the Response Plan was also conducted.
To obtain a written copy of the EA, contact Layne Hamilton, Project Leader, Southwest Florida Gulf Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 3860 Tollgate Blvd., Suite 300, Naples, Florida 34114, telephone 239/353-8442, ext. 227, or Elizabeth Souheaver, Southeast Regional Office, Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 420, Atlanta, Georgia 30345, telephone 404-679-7163 or fax 404-679-4082.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting fish, wildlife, and plants, and enhancing their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Visit the Service’s websites at http://www.fws.gov or http://www.fws.gov/southeast/.