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For Immediate Release, February 11, 2010

Contact:  Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017

Critical Habitat Denied for the Endangered Florida Panther

SILVER CITY, N.M.— In a blow to the endangered Florida panther, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied a petition from conservation groups seeking to designate critical habitat for the great cats.

“The decision not to set aside habitat for these highly endangered cats is at odds with the law and places the Florida panther at greater risk of extinction,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, who wrote the critical habitat petition on behalf of the Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and Council of Civic Association. “This denial will not stand.”

The petition requested designation of 4,860 square miles — roughly 3 million acres — in southern Florida as critical habitat in the hope that such a designation would spare this area from further development to save and begin to recover the Florida panther. Identification of these acres was based on a Florida Panther Recovery Plan that identified three areas needed for protection: a “primary zone” where panthers currently live and reproduce, a “secondary zone” of adjoining areas that panthers sometimes roam, and a “dispersal zone” consisting of a narrow travel corridor between developments where panthers traverse the Caloosahatchee River to reach more distant areas and potentially set up homes.

“Continued urban sprawl and survival of the Florida panther are fundamentally at odds,” said Robinson. “A line has to be drawn in the sand if we are going to save these magnificent cats and dozens of other wildlife species in South Florida.”

The agency’s denial of critical habitat cites other activities it’s engaged in on behalf of the panther, including a “conservation bank” and construction of underpasses on heavily traveled roads to reduce collisions with the big cats. Last year, an unprecedented 17 panthers were killed by vehicles in South Florida.

“Mitigation measures like panther crossings are helpful but not nearly sufficient,” said Robinson. “And a ‘conservation bank’ that allows preservation of some habitat as other habitat is wiped out will simply result in a piecemeal extinction.”

Florida panthers are a subspecies of the puma, uniquely adapted to a hot, humid climate and habitats that differ from those in the West. Adult males weigh an average of 116 pounds, and females weigh 75 pounds. Critical habitat is defined in the Endangered Species Act as the areas necessary for the recovery of an endangered species. Research shows that animals and plants with critical habitat are on average twice as likely to be recovering as those without.

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