Conservation Group Calls on Federal Agencies to Protect Critical Florida Panther Habitat

Agencies Ignored Federal Statutes and Failed to Take the Necessary Actions to Protect the Environment, Group Charges

(02/20/2007) - St. Petersburg, Florida -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Army Corps of Engineers have failed to properly protect the imperiled Florida panther, one of the world's most endangered mammals, by allowing the development of 5,000 acres of essential panther habitat in Collier County, Florida, according to a notice letter filed today by Defenders of Wildlife.

"This project is destroying primary and secondary panther habitat without restoring any additional lands," said Laurie Macdonald, director of Defenders of Wildlife Florida. "With several other large-scale development projects planned in the near future, the Fish and Wildlife Service must take action to prevent the panther from being pushed to the brink of extinction."

"This project is destroying primary and secondary panther habitat without restoring any additional lands," said Laurie Macdonald, director of Defenders of Wildlife Florida. "With several other large-scale development projects planned in the near future, the Fish and Wildlife Service must take action to prevent the panther from being pushed to the brink of extinction."

"We are hopeful that our efforts will result in greater protections for the last remaining panther habitat and restore additional necessary lands beyond what FWS is presently requiring," said Macdonald.

Habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation and increased human disturbance resulting from development are among the primary threats to the panther and many other imperiled species in South Florida. Additionally, rapid building and road development have resulted in a steady increase in the number of panthers killed by vehicle strikes.

Defenders of Wildlife has notified the agencies that it is prepared to bring legal action challenging the decision to allow the construction of a new town and university in a rural section of Collier County that scientists have identified as important to panthers. The site is also situated adjacent to an essential panther corridor, and no fewer than 19 panthers currently have their home ranges near the development site.

"Southern Florida's recent development boom has caused immeasurable damage to the Florida panther's remaining habitat and FWS and the Army Corps have once again neglected to use their authority to avoid or adequately mitigate the damage," said Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative with Defenders of Wildlife. "These agencies are setting a dangerous precedent that disregards panther recovery needs and could lead to the extinction of the panther as well as other imperiled native Florida wildlife."

Defenders contends that FWS has issued a "biological opinion" that fails to properly evaluate the impact this development will have on the panthers and did not require appropriate mitigation to offset this impact. The Corps' decision to issue a Clean Water Act permit for the project was based on FWS's flawed biological opinion, and the Corps has failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of the development as required by federal law.

"The method used to determine how these developments will impact the species that live there is not based on the best available science and needs to be reevaluated," said Fleming.

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Defenders of Wildlife is recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 500,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

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Contact(s):

Laurie Macdonald or Elizabeth Fleming, Defenders of Wildlife Florida, (727) 823-3888
Andrew Hawley, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3224

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