Commentary: Vern Buchanan issues statement to Feds, 'Protect the Florida Panther'
Endangered Species Safeguards Must Remain
WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan today wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service requesting that vital protections for Florida’s official state animal, the panther, remain intact.
The agency is reviewing whether to continue the highest protection for the panther under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Buchanan said the safeguards should not be weakened because the Florida panther remains one of the most endangered mammals on earth, with fewer than 250 big cats alive today.
“It is essential to maintain current federal protections to prevent one of the world's rarest cats from becoming extinct,” Buchanan wrote in the letter. “Florida panthers have become an iconic symbol for the wilderness and beauty of Florida. Major hurdles remain to the full recovery of these majestic animals.”
The panther was one of the original 14 mammals named to the endangered species list in 1967, but a critical habitat has never been established, even though one is required by the Endangered Species Act. Buchanan has pushed the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for the panther in Florida.
Buchanan noted in his letter that the agency’s review “comes less than a year after 32 panthers were struck and killed by vehicles on Florida roadways – the highest number of panther-involved accidents ever recorded.”
There have also been 21 total panther deaths so far this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviews each endangered or threatened species’ status every five years. Buchanan is concerned the safeguards may be weakened because the agency has said it will consider a study claiming the Florida panther is no different than pumas or mountain lions in western states.
In 2015, Buchanan and several other Florida congressmen sent a letter to President Obama requesting a safe habitat for the Florida panther. The letter highlighted the need for a safe environment that would preserve valuable environmental resources, such as wetlands, aquifer-recharge areas and drinking water supplies.
Text of the letter below.
August 23, 2017
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Office of the Assistant Secretary
United States Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Acting Director Sheehan,
I am writing to express my strong concern over reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may weaken protections for Florida panthers under the Endangered Species Act.
While it is heartening to see the Florida panther population increase to more than 200 in recent years, major hurdles remain to the full recovery of these majestic animals. That is why it is essential to maintain current federal protections to prevent one of the world's rarest cats from becoming extinct.
Alarmingly, your agency's standard review comes less than a year after 32 panthers were struck and killed by vehicles on Florida roadways – the highest number of panther-involved accidents ever recorded. Such traffic fatalities have risen more than 65 percent since 2012, outpacing the number of documented panther births. These roadkills are in addition to other causes of death, including poaching and disease.
Designated the state animal by Florida's schoolchildren, the panther was one of the original 14 mammals named to the endangered species list in 1967. Despite this classification, a critical habitat has never been established for the Florida panther even though one is required by the Endangered Species Act. “Without a sufficient protected habitat, there is no viable recovery” for the panther, according to the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a national non-profit alliance consisting of scientists, law enforcement officers, and land managers.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 recovery plan states that removing protections for panthers would require “two viable, self-sustaining populations of at least 240 individuals” that have existed for at least twelve years. Biologists estimate that the panther has not even begun to approach full recovery.
Florida panthers have become an iconic symbol for the wilderness and beauty of Florida. We must do everything possible to protect this treasured species.
Member of Congress