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More than 20,000 chime in on Florida panther's future

 
Florida Panther. Photographed at Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc. 
JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times
Florida Panther. Photographed at Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc. JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times
Published Sept. 6, 2017

Panther peeve

20,000

More than 20,000 people have given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service an earful about the future status of the endangered Florida panther, according to the agency's top panther biologist.

The panther, which has been listed as endangered since the first endangered list was published in 1967, has been Florida's official state animal since 1982. The Fish and Wildlife Service, which is supposed to review the status of every animal on the endangered list every five years, announced in July that it was planning a review for the panther and wanted public comments by Aug. 29.

The public obliged in droves, said David Shindle, the agency's panther coordinator, who said last week that he'd received "well over 20,000 " letters and emails by the deadline.

"As expected, this animal generated a lot of interest," he said.

Some of the letters and emails came from scientists and environmental activists, he said. Others came from less credentialed but still enthusiastic groups.

"I'm sitting here looking at a stack of paintings and drawings from an art class at Bellview Santos Elementary School" from the North Florida community of Bellview, Shindle said.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, both sent letters urging the federal agency to keep the panther on the endangered list.

The wildlife agency's review will now begin in earnest, Shindle said, adding that "we'd like to be wrapped up by the summer of 2019."

Any recommendation would go to the agency's director for action — either to maintain the endangered status or to change it.

If the recommendation is to change it, Shindle said, that will kick off a new process, which would require more public comment.

— Craig Pittman, craig@tampabay.com.