U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is the latest member of the Florida delegation calling on the Trump administration to keep Florida panthers on the endangered species list.
With the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reviewing keeping the Florida panther covered on the Endangered Species Act, Nelson wrote U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke on this issue this week.
“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,” Nelson wrote on Tuesday. “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,” Nelson added. “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,” Nelson continued. “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.”
Last week, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., sent a letter to Greg Sheehan, the acting director of the FWS, urging the federal government to keep the Florida panther covered under the Endangered Species Act.
At the end of 2015, Buchanan urged the FWS to designate a habitat for the Florida panther in a letter signed by fellow Republican then U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson and Democrats U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson and then U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.
Back in 2013, there were 160 Florida panthers in the wild but current estimates have it as high as 180. As low as that number is, it was far worse in the 1970s when the population dropped to around 20.