Panther needs emergency action
By FRANK JACKALONE AND ANDREW MCELWAINE Special To The Tampa Tribune
The Tampa Tribune
Published: January 23, 2010
Seventeen Florida panthers, a record number, were killed on area roads in 2009. The response from federal regulators - that it is a positive sign because there must be more panthers - gives the wrong impression. While the panther population has increased from 30 in the 1980s to perhaps 100 today, every death threatens its survival.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Sierra Club are asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to immediately implement three emergency measures to prevent the extinction of the Florida panther:
•Limit Sprawl. Florida panther habitat has been whittled down to a few counties in south Florida. Plans for expansive development in the rural lands of eastern Collier County - such as the enormous Big Cypress shopping mall and housing complex - will bring more cars into panther habitat and threaten the small panther population left. Although the Florida panther has been listed as endangered since 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has never designated "critical habitat," a key tool under the Endangered Species Act. Sprawl into panther habitat will continue unless the Interior Department immediately designates "critical habitat."
*Protect Passage. Almost all of the panther road deaths were avoidable. Increased fencing and accelerated installation of protective panther "crossings" at strategic panther movement corridors would eliminate the vast majority of the vehicle-related deaths.
*Support Science. With only 100 animals left, there is no room for error. State and federal agencies should continue panther research and monitoring efforts. Panther survival depends on funding the work of panther experts and providing resources to acquire evolving technologies. This will ensure that the best possible science is used to formulate and implement panther conservation and recovery efforts.
Prompt implementation of these three initiatives would help stem the unnecessary deaths of the nation's most critically endangered mammal. The time to act is now, before the majestic Florida panthers are lost forever.
Frank Jackalone is director of the Sierra Club's Florida office and Andrew McElwaine is president of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org