Why is the FWC Giving up on the Florida Panther?
I have a theory, after reading all of the research that will be presented to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission on Sept 2 and 3 2015, and it has nothing to do with giving up, and everything to do with wanting to hunt charismatic animals like the Florida Panther and Florida Black Bear.
Tell the FWC Commissioners to oppose the draft position statement. Attend the upcoming FWC meeting in Ft. Lauderdale on September 2nd, 2015 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. The FWC will be voting on the revised statement as well as finalizing rules for the impending bear hunt.
More information about the meeting including the address, start time, agenda, and a link to the revised draft FL panther position statement may be found online at http://myfwc.com/about/commission/commission-meetings/2015/september/02/agenda/
First the Facts and the Science
The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) maintains that for the Florida Panther to go from Endangered to Threatened there would have to be at least 2 populations of Florida Panthers of at least 240 animals each. For the Florida Panther to be healthy enough to sustain populations for the next 100 years there would have to be at least 3 populations of 240 animals each. The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) says there are currently 100-180 Florida Panthers.
Back up a minute. 100-180? That is a huge gap and for many years we've been told that Florida Panthers number less than 100, so why is it that now, when they are trying to rush through a proposal to give up on the Florida Panther, is the FWC saying there could be 180 of the sleek, elegant cats? No one has guessed such a high estimate before now. But even if they were right, that is a far cry from the 720 Florida Panthers needed to ensure their survival.
If you take a look at the presentation that will be shown to the Commissioners on Tuesday you will see that it concludes that the state of Florida should abandon plans for reintroduction of the Florida Panther outside of its very small area, of mostly flooded Everglades territory, and implies that:
1. There aren't many deer or other prey animals left there for hunters to shoot anyway.
2. If Florida Panther are allowed to migrate outside of the Everglades they will kill the deer and other prey species that hunters want to shoot.
3. People are afraid to live near Florida Panthers and Florida Bears.
Let's Take Those Reasons One at a Time
1. There Isn't Enough Prey in Florida Panther Territory
That may well be true, but it isn't the Florida Panther's fault. The Florida Panther has been struggling to survive due to habitat destruction, human hunting of the prey species the big cats need to survive, and the FWC's refusal to ban the private possession of exotic animals, which has resulted in discarded pythons and other exotic reptiles, sucking the Everglades dry of just about every species living there. If the FWC really cares about providing better Florida Panther habitat in southern Florida, then it needs to ban hunting there and ban the private possession of exotic animals in the state.
The report states that it is based primarily on camera trap studies from April to September 2014, but no study could be complete without covering a full year as patterns change based on weather, tourists, hunting and breeding seasons. The report also stated that it couldn't tell un collared cats apart, other than sometimes by sex, so the current report is based on many assumptions that haven't been proven. Unlike tigers who can be identified by their stripe patterns, the camera trap imagery is insufficient to determine if researchers saw 131 un-collared Florida Panthers or if they saw 1 Florida Panther 100 times or so... or anywhere in between.
2. If the Florida Panther Migrates North It Will Kill More Deer
Yes, that's how nature works. No one needs to kill wild animals to "manage" them, if you get out of the way and let Nature do her thing.
The report cites that from 2004-2015 106 hobby farm animals (like backyard chickens) and domestic pet deaths (mostly free roaming cats) were blamed on Florida Panthers and 34 calf deaths were blamed on the cat. The report doesn't say how they determined the culprit was the Florida Panther, (rather than free roaming dogs, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, etc.) but even giving the FWC the benefit of the doubt, compare those 140 losses to the more than 165 Florida Panthers who were killed by car strikes during the same period and tell me who the real menace is here?
The report did state that the hobby animals and domestic pets, that were thought to have been killed by Florida Panthers, was a "very small proportion" of the Panther's diet, but if you do the math, that statement is so negligible that it seems the only reason to include it would be to justify giving up on the Florida Panther. Consider the lowest number of Florida Panthers in the state being 100 and that they only eat twice a week, which may be just barely surviving, that's 10,400 animals a year consumed by Florida Panthers. That means the 140 farm and domestic animal meals, over the 11 year period, are 0.001 % of their diet. Defenders of Wildlife and The Conservancy of SW Florida both offer programs to assist people in protecting their livestock and pets should be kept indoors. These organizations also offer $340 per calf killed so that there is no loss to the farmer.
3. People Are Afraid to Live Near Florida Panthers and Bears
Much of the reasoning the FWC offers for wanting to resume bear hunting (after 40 years of protection) and for wanting to give up on the recovery of the Florida Panther, is blamed on people not wanting to live near these wild animals. If that's true then why hasn't the FWC responded to the tens of thousands of complaints sent to them by Floridians who do not want to live next door to crazy neighbors who keep tigers in their backyards and garages? There are more than 100 places in Florida that are licensed to possess dangerous big cats, and at last count 314 of the dangerous big cats were tigers.
Only 3 of those places were AZA accredited zoos and one was GFAS accredited Big Cat Rescue. The rest are a hodgepodge of back yard breeders and tourist traps with very little oversight. The FWC and USDA may inspect once a year, but if they don't catch someone in the act of harming the animals, or doing something reckless, then they are typically given a clean inspection report.
The FWC points to four recent bear / human conflicts and can't find any such cases of Florida Panthers stalking people, but ignores the fact that from 1990 - 2014 there were 84 killings, maulings or escapes by captive exotic cats in Florida. If you are going to use public safety as a reason to hunt and kill our precious natural predators, then why doesn't that same logic result in a ban on the private possession of lions and tigers in Florida? When the next big hurricane hits Florida, it will be the thousands of dangerous exotic animals potentially freed from cages who will be endangering the public; not our native bears and cats. All throughout this report the FWC claims to be taking a proactive approach to the situation, but that has not been the case with captive exotic animals at all.
The FWC says that managing the survival of these iconic wild animals in their historic range takes up too much of the FWC's time and resources. Their tagline is to Protect and Serve. Most people think that means to Protect Wildlife and Serve Floridians, but it's been my experience that it is more to Protect Hunting and Serve Hunters. That is particularly egregious since less than 2% of Floridians are hunters.
Judge for Yourself
The Florida Legislature's 2014-2015 Appropriations to the FWC, which is funded by those pretty Save the Florida Panther license plates, was $1,324,534.00 That paid the salaries of 10 people working for the FWC. It provided paychecks to 5 biologists, who you would have to assume came up with these proposals, to give up on the Florida Panther and open hunting on the protected Black Bear. It also provided paychecks to 5 law enforcement officers, but to this day I've never heard of one catching the poacher of a Florida Panther or Black Bear in the act; have you? Seems like that would be a pretty good story for boosting their funding, but I can't recall ever hearing about such a thing.
If you go to the FWC's website ( http://myfwc.com/ ) the first thing you will notice is that their top two flashing banner ads are about teaching children to kill animals before they are old enough to know better. Next is a pitch to catch more fish. Then a note to check out the bear updates and then a picture of turtle hatchlings going out to sea. Leaves you on a happy note, even if everything up until then makes an animal lover want to fire the whole agency. If you go to any of the FWCC meetings, you will be appalled to hear them go on and on and on about how they have to make killing animals more attractive to children and battered women.
Add to the controversy the fact that among the landowners seeking the permit is Immokalee rancher Liesa Priddy, who in 2012 was appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Rick Scott.
Earlier this year, Priddy urged her agency's executive director to create a new policy for how the state deals with the endangered cats, and then helped him edit it, line by line. The policy they came up with called for easing protections on the state animal. It had not been reviewed by the agency's own panther biologists before it was completed.
Going back to the bear update, it appears the primary focus is to get people to report more bear problems so they can build up that case for opening up bear hunts. I think that's the real impetus behind giving up on the Florida Panther too.
If the FWC can push through this proposed policy that states that the FWC is not going to burden itself with assisting the recovery of the Florida Panther outside of its barren range, then I believe they will use that as a stepping stone to allow the killing of Florida Panthers who dare to try and leave the flooded plains of the Everglades. They have already done the same to bears by allowing "nuisance" bears to be killed rather than requiring people to keep their trash in bear safe cans.
Then they can offer more hunting opportunities to those children and battered women.
Read the whole report and you will see some mention that the FWC intends to try to improve the small area where they want to relegate the Florida Panthers, but that seems to be more smoke and mirrors to make it look like they will make some effort to preserve the cat, when those small measures could never really save the Florida Panther long term.
Big Cat Rescue Protects Florida Panthers
What You Can Do
Come to the meeting and speak your mind. They will limit you to 3 minutes, but if you don't speak up to protect the Florida Panther and the Florida Bear, who will?
June, 2015 Commission Meeting
Time: 1:30 pm the first day, 8:30 am each day thereafter
Dates: June 23 - 25, 2015
Place: Hyatt Regency Sarasota
1000 Boulevard of the Arts
Sarasota, Florida 34236
Check out the agenda and read the reports ahead of time so you know what is happening in your state. http://myfwc.com/about/commission/commission-meetings/2015/june/23/agenda/
Florida Residents Only: Take Action for Florida Panthers here: http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/51389/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15098
Florida Residents Only: Take Action for Florida Bears here: http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/51389/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15104
You can also help by signing this petition: