by Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service-FL
March 13, 2012
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- There are more than 50 Florida animal species listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, and several of them have seen sharp declines in recent years. The Florida panther and manatee are well-known creatures on the list, but there are dozens of lesser-known, yet vital, examples, such as the Miami blue butterfly and the Everglade snail kite.
Larry Williams, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Vero Beach, says helping at-risk species early is key.
"It's much more efficient to prevent the species from getting to that point. We can help steer land uses. It's just a lot more cost-effective."
Williams adds that it can cost millions of dollars when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has to step in to help prevent the extinction of a species, and his agency never has enough money to help all of them. Instead, they prioritize about 20 species every year to help prevent their extinction.
The Florida grasshopper sparrow is one example of a species that is reportedly very near extinction. In the last ten years, experts have seen an 80 percent decrease in its population. Paul Gray with the Florida Audubon Society says a variety of factors could be influencing the decline of the sparrow.
"It's been here all along and we know it's human activity that's done it, but when you don't even know what the problem is, it's just so frustrating and so scary to be stewards of something that we don't know what's wrong."
Laurie Macdonald, the Florida director of Defenders of Wildlife, says losing a species like the Florida grasshopper sparrow can affect many other animals.
"Every species has its niche. There's a whole cascade effect of how one animal influences the ecosystem and others in it."
Preventing their extinction is a complex job that includes an investigation into what's harming the animals, steps to provide a natural habitat, and, in the most extreme cases, raising the species in captivity to encourage breeding.