Fish and Wildlife Service releases Draft Florida Panther Recovery Plan for public review
This is the third update of the Service’s panther recovery plan since 1981 when the first plan was crafted. The revised plan will be substituted for the panther chapter in the Service’s Multi-Species Recovery Plan as well as its range-wide species recovery plan for the panther. The announcement marks the latest milestone in panther conservation.
"The Service relies on the best available science to guide our management decisions," said Sam Hamilton, regional director for the Service's Southeast Region. "Ultimately recovering the endangered Florida panther is one of the most significant conservation challenges in the southeastern United States. This updated recovery plan puts a premium on the partnerships that are so vital to the success of this conservation effort. This represents the beginning of a new chapter in Florida panther conservation."
The revised recovery plan was written by the Florida Panther Recovery Team, led by the Service. The 42-member Recovery Team includes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and representatives from other state and federal agencies, universities, Indian tribes, conservation organizations, and other private stakeholders.
"Over the past 15 years, we have worked closely with the Service to conserve Florida panther habitat and increase the panther population," Ken Haddad, the director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said recently. "As the panther's numbers continue to increase, it's clear we are making progress on a complex conservation challenge, and I think that is largely because of the strong partnership we've forged with the Service."
This draft recovery plan includes specific recovery objectives and criteria to be met in order to reclassify (downlist) and eventually delist the Florida panther under the Endangered Species Act. Under this revised draft plan, downlisting the Florida panther from endangered to threatened should be considered when:
Additionally, delisting of the Florida panther entirely should be considered when:
The Florida Panther Recovery Plan includes provisions that contemplate reintroduction of panthers in locations across the Southeast. While this plan and earlier versions consider reintroduction necessary to ultimately recover the species, reintroduction is not likely for years and it won't under any circumstances be pursued without closely working with state fish and wildlife agencies, conservation groups, and other stakeholders. Extensive opportunities for public comment and an aggressive outreach and education initiative would also be developed.
The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) once ranged throughout most of the southeastern United States. Today, the Florida panther presently occupies less than 5 percent of its historic range. The only breeding population today is located in south Florida, where roughly 80 panthers remain in the wild.
The panther requires large contiguous areas that contain its prey and it needs dense understory for feeding, resting, and denning. The principal threats to the panther include habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation resulting from urbanization and agricultural development; reduced genetic diversity; and mortality associated with road hazards and potential disease outbreaks.
The Service is seeking public comments on this third revision of the Florida Panther Recovery Plan. Comments may be directed to Chris_Belden, South Florida Ecological Services Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, Florida 32960, and will be accepted through April 3, 2006. For more information, contact the address above, call 772-562-3909, or visit http://www.fws.gov/verobeach/.
The 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 includes 545 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. Visit the Service’s website at http://www.fws.gov/southeast/.
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