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For Immediate Release, March 28, 2013

Contact:   Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 490-9190
Andrew McElwaine, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, (239) 403-4210

Floridians Launch Lawsuit to Ensure Endangered Species Enjoy Full Endangered Species Act Protection

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Conservancy of Southwest Florida today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s attempt to hand over its management of endangered species to the state of Florida. The groups plan to sue the agency for violating the Endangered Species Act by granting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission the sole power to authorize activities that harm imperiled species without federal review.

“The Endangered Species Act is the nation’s most effective law for preventing species extinction, in part because it prohibits unauthorized harm to wildlife. Turning over the responsibility to authorize harm to the state would be a disaster,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida native and attorney at the Center. “It would leave the fate of Florida’s most at-risk wildlife in the hands of state leadership that’s denying the realities of sea-level rise, whose top priority is eliminating regulations necessary for protecting the environment.

“The Act has been enormously successful at protecting Florida species,” said Lopez. “Given the scale of development pressure in Florida, federal involvement is essential to ensuring science is followed and species are protected.”

“This agreement is part of a larger agenda to remove protective regulations under the guise of efficiency,” said Andrew McElwaine, president of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “Federal and state review in permitting are complementary, not redundant, and provide checks and balances in protecting our native wildlife. Federal oversight of endangered species is less likely to be influenced by politics, is more open to the public and brings expert scientists to the table, all of which is of benefit to Florida’s most at-risk wildlife species.

“Diverse wildlife is one of the things that make Florida attractive to visitors and residents,” said McElwaine. “When we protect wildlife, we are protecting our quality of life and ensuring economic vitality.”

The Act prohibits actions that harm protected species, including new developments, mines and roads, without a federally authorized permit. The Fish and Wildlife Service may only approve such a “take” permit after it has ensured a variety of safeguards and determined that authorizing the activity will not jeopardize the continued existence of the species or destroy its habitat. Through a recently revised “cooperative agreement,” under Section 6 of the Act — which is typically reserved for assisting states in implementing programs for conserving species through research, habitat restoration, public education and other such conservation programs — the federal agency has delegated to the state of Florida its duty to protect species from harm.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has experience conducting scientific research, managing lands and recreational uses such as hunting and fishing. But the agency has little expertise in conducting the type of analysis required by the Endangered Species Act for permitting activities. Florida’s limited resources and budgetary cuts, past regulatory failures, limited involvement in reviewing development proposals and preference for nonregulatory approaches to management of listed species strongly suggest the state is not up to the task of implementing the Endangered Species Act.

Both groups are represented by the Everglades Law Center and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a nonprofit grassroots organization focused on the critical environmental issues of the Southwest Florida region with a mission to protect the region’s water, land and wildlife.

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