Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Federal agency rejects habitat protection for Florida panthers

For the second time, federal wildlife officials have rejected a request that they designate thousands of square miles of South Florida as critical habitat for the Florida panther.

Although the Florida panther has been on the endangered species list for 40 years, the government has never officially designated what its "critical habitat" would be. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not objected to any development affecting panthers since 1993.

Designating a certain area as critical habitat for the panther would require increased scrutiny when developers, farmers and miners want to alter the swamps and forests where the big cats live.

The decision, announced Thursday by the agency, has left U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings extremely troubled, according to spokeswoman Lale Mamaux, who promised Hastings would be following up on the issue.

Last year, Hastings, D-Miami, sent a letter to the White House urging President Barack Obama to grant the panthers their critical habitat. The letter was co-signed by Reps. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Alan Grayson, D-Orlando.

Panthers are Florida's state animal. About 100 prowl the forests and swamps in an area that begins at the Caloosahatchee River and stretches down through Everglades National Park. Last year a record 17 panthers were killed by cars and trucks, and one was shot.

After five years of silence, in 2008 Fish and Wildlife rejected a 2003 petition to designate critical habitat for the panther. Paul Souza, the head of the agency's Vero Beach office, said he feared limiting development in panther habitat might "cause unintended harm by inducing negative public sentiment" toward the animal.

So last year, on the same day Obama was sworn in as president, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida submitted a new petition for critical habitat. Several months later a coalition of groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity filed a similar petition.

Both petitions focused on an area known as the Primary Zone, which covers 3,548 square miles in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties. A 2006 study by scientists defined that as the minimum area essential to support the existing panther population. But a 9,000-home development named Big Cypress has been proposed for more than 3,000 acres of the Primary Zone.

The developer of that project is now working with three state or national environmental groups — Audubon of Florida, Defenders of Wildlife and the Florida Wildlife Federation — on tailoring a plan that would offer enhanced protection for some panther habitat while still allowing development in some areas.

In announcing Thursday's decision, Souza said his agency believes a cooperative approach is a better way to go.

In the meantime, he said, "We believe our current strategy and priorities are the best paths forward at this time."

Conservancy president Andrew McElwaine said he and his allies at the Sierra Club strongly disagree with the decision, and Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said it "is at odds with the law and places the Florida panther at greater risk of extinction. This denial will not stand."

Craig Pittman can be reached at (727) 893-8530 or craig@sptimes.com.

Federal agency rejects habitat protection for Florida panthers 02/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 11, 2010 9:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst

    Business

    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico

    World

    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75

    Accidents

    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.