U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is urging the Trump administration to keep the Florida panther on the federal endangered species list.
The move comes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced recently that it is conducting a review of whether to maintain the Florida panther’s current listing under the Endangered Species Act.
“As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts its review of the Florida panther’s Endangered Species Act listing, I strongly urge you to maintain the endangered classification and intensify efforts to preserve the Florida panther,” Nelson wrote in a letter today to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
“Some good progress has been made,” Nelson continued. “Unfortunately, many of the original threats to the panther’s survival continue to pose a threat today.”
In his letter, Nelson noted that more than 140 Florida panthers were killed by cars in the last decade. He says additional measures such as wildlife crossings and roadway fencing will be needed to further protect panthers from vehicle collisions.
The Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to review the status of each species on the federal endangered list at least once every five years to determine whether any species should be removed from the list, reclassified or maintained at its current classification.
On June 29, FWS announced that it was reviewing the classifications of 22 endangered species, including the Florida panther.
Following is the text of Nelson’s letter to Zinke.
August 29, 2017
The Honorable Ryan Zinke
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Zinke,
I’m writing to update you on the current threats facing the endangered Florida panther, particularly habitat loss and vehicle collisions. As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts its review of the Florida panther’s Endangered Species Act listing, I strongly urge you to maintain the endangered classification and intensify efforts to preserve the Florida panther.
Four decades ago, there were only about twenty panthers left in existence. Conservationists, federal researchers, and community leaders came together to develop a recovery plan that determines the panther population will be considered recovered when there are three established populations each consisting of at least 240 individuals.
Some good progress has been made. In March of this year, we celebrated a new milestone in the panther’s recovery when a female panther and her kittens were spotted north of the Caloosahatchee River for the first time since the species was listed in 1973.
Unfortunately, many of the original threats to the panther’s survival continue to pose a threat today.
In the last decade, at least 140 panthers were killed by cars. That’s about the same number of panthers as the size of the entire adult population today. Clearly, there is a need for additional resources to protect the panther from vehicle collisions. Wildlife crossings and roadway fencing are a tried and true way to do this while also preventing habitat fragmentation. I encourage you to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation and state and local governments to recommend and pursue new crossings.
Additionally, the panther—like many endangered species in Florida—faces habitat loss from encroaching development. It is critical that future development effectively balances the panther’s needs.
I look forward to discussing the panther’s recovery with the nominee to be U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director. In the meantime, I hope you will continue to dedicate resources to ensuring the survival and further recovery of the Florida panther.
Thank you for consideration of these comments.