NAPLES, Fla., Jan. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Conservancy of
Southwest Florida has filed a petition with Secretary Salazar of the United
States Department of the Interior to provide additional legal protection for
the endangered Florida panther to help prevent its extinction.
Only an estimated 90 to 100 Florida panthers remain today, almost all
within South Florida. Because of these low numbers, they are considered at
extremely high risk of extinction. Although there are provisions to protect
the panther provided by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), designation of
critical habitat, a key component of the Act, has yet to be undertaken.
Additionally, Florida panthers are known as "umbrella species" -- meaning that
the loss of their habitat is the loss of habitat important to numerous other
imperiled species, as well as lands critical to preserving our water quality
and drinking water supply.
The Conservancy petition seeks to designate those lands needed to preserve
the panther by asking the Interior Department to utilize best available
science and designate the Florida panther's critical habitat. The petition
requests that the panther's "primary zone," be included in the definition of
critical habitat. In 2006 the primary zone, which covers a portion of eastern
Collier, Lee and Hendry counties, was defined by scientists as the minimum
area essential to support the existing panthers. The Conservancy also seeks
designation of lands currently defined as "secondary" and "dispersal zones,"
which scientists have determined to be necessary for establishment of expanded
populations for the long-term recovery of the panther.
"This designation is long overdue," said Conservancy President Andrew
McElwaine. "It will resolve once and for all those lands which should be
protected and those which can be available for development." McElwaine
pointed out that the panther primary zone should be the minimum amount of land
designated as critical habitat.
"Designation of critical habitat should form the basis for management
decisions that affect the panther," said Jennifer Hecker, natural resource
policy manager, "Once critical habitat is designated, the Endangered Species
Act requires Federal agencies to limit the granting of development permits
that may adversely affect or interfere with the recovery of the panther."
Since the 1930s, at least one-third of the forested land in South Florida
has been cleared for agricultural and residential development. Continued
development worsens the plight of the panther, jeopardizing its recovery from
the brink of extinction. Twenty-three panthers died in 2009 and three have
been killed in the past three weeks.
The Conservancy advocates for protection of the panther's primary zone and
has opposed projects such as the proposed 3,700-acre Town of Big Cypress,
which would destroy more than 3,400 acres of primary panther habitat. The
Conservancy believes that decisions impacting such large areas of Florida
panther habitat should be made after a comprehensive public process to
designate and protect critical habitat, not through individual permit
decisions or through voluntary, private sector initiatives.
If the Secretary of the Interior accepts the Conservancy's petition they
will begin a public process for the designation which will include public
hearings in South Florida. Ultimately, critical habitat designation would be
adopted through the federal rulemaking process.
For more information, visit the Conservancy Web site at
www.conservancy.org or call 239-262-0304.
About the Conservancy of Southwest Florida:
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida began in 1964 when community leaders
came together to defeat a proposed "Road to Nowhere" and spearheaded the
acquisition and protection of Rookery Bay.
The Conservancy is a grassroots organization focused on the critical
environmental issues of the Southwest Florida region. Partnering with like-
minded organizations, the Conservancy works to manage growth and protect area
waters, land and wildlife. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida promotes sound
environmental policies and practices based on solid scientific research while
providing environmental education to residents and visitors. The Wildlife
Rehabilitation Center treats more than 2,400 injured, sick and orphaned
animals each year and releases about half back into their native habitats.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Conservancy Nature Center are
located in Naples, Florida at 1450 Merrihue Drive, off Goodlette-Frank Road at
14th Avenue North. For information about the Conservancy of Southwest Florida,
call 239-262-0304 or www.conservancy.org.
SOURCE Conservancy of Southwest Florida