Working together to protect Florida’s panther.
Florida panthers are in a fight for their lives! These iconic cats are facing multiple threats from habitat depletion and prey loss to vehicle collisions and the risk of losing their federal protective status. This catfight is ongoing and must be won one battle at a time. Show your claws and join the fight!
Check back here often for new and current opportunities to protect the Florida panther. Help us spread the word! Share this page and the actions below on social media using the hashtag #CatFight.
Attacks from every direction
The Florida panther is facing imminent attacks from all directions. Battles that have been mounting for years, some decades, are now converging. These are just some of the looming threats.
Eastern Collier Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan & Rural Lands West
Florida Fish and Wildlife [FWC] Commissioner Aliese Priddy is just one of a group of landowners who have applied for an Incidental Take Permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS]. If approved, this permit would allow these landowners to “incidentally take” Florida panthers, gopher tortoises, sandhill cranes, burrowing owls, and several other protected species for the next 50 years on thousands of acres in prime wildlife habitat. What does “incidental take” mean? It means that as a consequence of development, these animals can be inadvertently harassed, injured, pursued, shot, wounded, killed, trapped, captured, collected, or have their habitats changed or damaged so much that it kills them.
Part of the land will be used to develop a city the size of Washington, DC in the middle of our state. While other parts, that are meant to be preserved for wildlife, may be used for oil drilling and exploration. The permitting process requires these landowners to create a Habitat Conservation Plan [HCP], which must then be approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The first hearing on the proposed HCP was held in April 2016. An overwhelming number of written comments and public speakers urged against the proposed plan and demanded that FWS reject or greatly improve the plan. The HCP is expected to once again be considered for approval in Fall 2017.
As part of the Eastern Collier Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, the new town of Rural Lands West is currently being considered by local, state, and federal permitting agencies. Rural Lands West is a large-scale master planned- mixed-use development consisting of recreational amenities; a commercial town center; schools, residential neighborhoods with roads, lakes, drainage management systems and other associated infrastructure. It will directly impact about 4,100 acres of land. Approximately 76% (or 3,100 acres) of this land is now found in Primary panther habitat and 24% (about 980 acres) in Secondary panther habitat.
CITES Appendix II Listing
In the summer of 2016, Canada submitted a proposal to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora [CITES] calling for a redesignate the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) as an Appendix II species during the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in South Africa [CITES CoP17]. The proposal acknowledged that the subspecies Puma concolor coryi still met the biological criteria for inclusion in Appendix I, having a small and fragmented population and a restricted area of distribution and that the subspecies should remain federally protected.
CITES is an international treaty designed to control and regulate international trade in certain animal and plant species that are now or potentially may become threatened with extinction. These species are listed in Appendices to CITES. Currently, 181 countries and the European Union have ratified, accepted, approved, or acceded to CITES; these 182 entities are known as Parties. The different Appendices afford different protection and endangered status. A downlisting of the Florida panther to Appendix 2 would potentially risk the panther’s U.S. protections under the Endangered Species Act.
In September, just before the start of CoP17, Big Cat Rescue joined with 17 other national and international animal groups in demanding the rejection of Canada’s proposition to downlist the North American cougar subspecies Florida Panther from Appendix I to Appendix II. Unfortunately, CoP17 voted in favor of downlisting of the Florida Panther to Appendix II. Our joint letter read in part:
South Florida has one of the fastest growing human populations in the nation. The state is expected to grow to more than 25.5 million by 2040, on the order of 200,000 persons each year. One can fully expect any CITES downlisting of the Florida panther to be followed by a petition, either by those currently or soon to be seeking to develop panther territory, to reduce the very federal and state protections Prop.5 relies upon. Puma concolor coryi meets the criteria for, and must remain, an Appendix I listed species to ensure its survival against increasing and evolving threats. Sadly, the Florida panther appears destined to be one of those species that quietly disappears into extinction before anyone notices or takes appropriate action. For these reasons, the undersigned submit their strong opposition to Canada’s CoP17 Prop. 5 to redesignate the North American cougar subspecies Puma concolor cougar and Puma concolor coryi as Appendix II species; we urge the US to oppose Prop.5 and Canada to reconsider its position.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 5-year Review
On June 30, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced they would conduct a routine review of the Florida panther’s protective status. Currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, FWS’s 2008 Florida Panther Recovery Plan requires that three viable self-sustaining populations of at least 240 individuals must be maintained for at least 12 years with sufficient habitat for the species to recover. But developers, ranchers, and hunters have been pressuring the FWS to down list or completely remove the panther’s protective status.
Road kills, habitat loss and development in panther range continue to be threats. Dozens of applications for developments, mines, and other projects are currently being considered in panther habitat. In fact, FWS is in the process of reviewing a development plan for Collier County that would build a city the size of Washington D.C. in the heart of panther territory! Habitat is being lost at a rate of about 1~2% annually and panther range counties are among the fastest-growing areas in the nation. The Florida panther needs to be protected now more than ever! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted public input for consideration in the review of Florida panthers until August 29, 2017. Our supporters submitted over 3,500 comments! And Big Cat Rescue joined with local and national groups in submitting our comments. Read our joint letter to FWS. The review process may take 2 years before a recommendation is made.
FWC’s Florida Panther Position Statement
In June 2015 Big Cat Rescue joined various national conservation groups in speaking out against the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s [FWC] policy proposal for the Florida panther. Many of you responded to our action alert, contacting the FWC and asking them to not give up on the Florida panther. As a result, the FWC sent the proposal back to their staff for revision and posted an updated proposal in August 2015. But it was no different than the original plan! As the Tampa Bay Times put it in their August 17th editorial, the revised proposal is a “win for open government over secrecy” but the policy still has “some weasel language” and overall, is a reminder of the “need for public oversight of this critical agency.”
Big Cat Rescue opposed the revised policy proposal. Although we were pleased to see some of the most contentious terms and language removed, we found the “weasel language” to be far more extensive and subtle than the TBT let on.
First, the good. The revision included welcomed recommendations to restore panther habitat in the Everglades, coordinate with the Florida Department of Transportation on the installation wildlife crossings, and support for strategic conservation easements. But the FWC has little to no say in these matters. These recommendations are just that, recommendations.
Second, the bad. The original proposal said that the FWC would no longer support panther recovery outside of southwest Florida and insisted that one population of an estimated 100 to 180 panthers in southwest Florida after 34 years “should be ample scientific evidence to warrant reconsideration of the status of panthers under the Endangered Species Act”. The federal government has maintained that for panthers to be taken off of the endangered species list there would need to be three separate populations of 240 panthers each. Conservation groups, wildlife organizations, and a wide array of Floridians were quick to call out this attempt to redefine the recovery criteria for taking panthers off the endangered species list. (Big Cat Rescue believes this is a preliminary step towards ultimately allowing a panther trophy hunt). Although the revised position statement notes that the FWC does not intend to change the panther’s protected status, the core statements brashly asserted in the original proposal are still there – polished and smoothed over, but none the wiser.
Third, the ugly. The FWC is still abandoning their obligation to protect the Florida panther outside of the small population of 100 to 180 panthers in southwest Florida. And the statement still calls for federal officials to redefine the recovery criteria for taking panthers off the endangered species list. It also leaves the door wide open for the FWC to take lethal action against panthers.
In spite of great public opposition, the FWC passed their revised Panther Position Statement at the September 2015 meeting – putting panthers on the fast track to losing protections and becoming fair game.
Federal Threats to the Endangered Species Act
A flurry of federal bills have been introduced in the 115th session of Congress to undermine, weaken, and or greatly restrict the Endangered Species Act. Don’t be fooled by their deceptive names, these bills would have a negative impact on a broad range of both captive and wild animals found in the U.S. and abroad. Most all of them also directly threaten the protective status of the Florida panther. Here are a few of the highlights:
- H.R. 717 Listing Reform Act. Introduced on January 27, 201, by Pete Olsen, R-22 Texas. Track this bill’s progress online at www.govtrack.us.
- H.R.2134 Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act. Introduced on Apr 25, 2017, by Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-03 Missouri. Track this bill’s progress online at www.govtrack.us.
- H.R.1274 State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act. Introduced on March 1, 2017, by Dan Newhouse, R-4 Washington. Track this bill’s progress online at www.govtrack.us.
- H.R. 3131 Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act. Introduced on June 29, 2017, by Bill Huizenga, R-2 Michigan. Track this bill’s progress online at www.govtrack.us.
- S.1863 Native Species Protection Act. Introduced on September 26, 2017, by Mike Lee, R-Utah. Track this bill’s progress online at www.govtrack.us. Read more about this bill in this article.
Protect the Endangered Species Act for Florida Panthers!
Contact your U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators and demand that they oppose efforts to weaken or “modernize” the Endangered Species Act. Specifically, urge them to prevent the passage of the federal bills highlighted above.
Take action! Go to GovTrack.us to find your elected officials phone number and call today!
Keep Florida Panther Protections Intact! CONCLUDED
On June 30, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that they would be reviewing the Florida panther’s protective status. This iconic species is currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act but developers, ranchers, and hunters have been pressuring FWS to down list or completely remove the panther’s protective status. This catfight is just beginning and we need you to show your claws! Take action!
More actions coming soon…
Thank you to Stefanie Kraus for designing the Catfight logo for Big Cat Rescue.