Earth Week Excerpts: From “Save the Florida Panther,” by Ciara Kazmierski

April 29, 2012

. . . What exactly is a Florida panther? A Florida panther is a big cat that is a subspecies of the puma. It is an important part of the ecosystem as a predator. Florida panthers are unique in diet and behavior, all essential in understanding the cats so that they may be preserved. While these animals once covered much of the Southeast, they are now only found in Florida, in habitats that are succumbing to human activities and expansion. . . .
This increasingly rare species is disappearing at an alarming rate. The US Fish and Wildlife Service explains that human activities are the root cause of the panthers’ problems. With the expansion of cities and suburbs, industry, and agriculture, the panthers are being pushed into closer and closer quarters with one another. This leads to territory fights that can result in death. Panthers are more likely to find themselves on asphalt with bright headlights bearing down on them. . . .
It is truly disheartening to see this predator fall. It is well known that extinction of a top predator in a food chain can have devastating results. All animals will be affected as those who were normally hunted become dominant in the habitat, reproducing with no predator to moderate their population. Excessive amounts of these animals then cause damage to their food resources, and the problems simply continue. This kind of unregulated reproduction and feeding could result in the breakdown and collapse of the equilibrium of that habitat.
So what can be done? The panthers need their space. In April of 2011, Craig Pittman wrote . . . [an] article on that very issue. A case had come before federal court that would have been a huge step forward for the panthers and their recovery. Pittman explains that “the suit, filed by a coalition of environmental groups, sought to overrule the Obama administration’s refusal to declare 1.3 million acres as critical habitat for the panther, Florida’s state animal” (11). This is a truly frustrating result.
It is interesting because Obama is currently running on a platform for the 2012 presidential election that claims he has made the environment a “priority” (13). While his website talks about how he has “enacted the largest expansion of land and water conservation and protected wilderness in a generation,” his main focus seems to be clean energy and making sure that those who read his site know that he handled the Keystone XL leak better than the Republicans would have as their proposal was “arbitrary and rushed” (13).
When it really comes down to it, however, Floridians should be appalled by the judge’s decision and reasoning for the panthers’ habitat. Why would the judge not overrule the Obama administration’s decision? Even a group of “panther and habitat mapping experts,” who said this grant of land would save the panthers, were ignored (11). The problem is nearly laughable as it is so ridiculous. Pittman’s article explains that “[a]lthough panthers have been on the federal endangered list since 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not declared any of its habitat to be critical, a step that would make it harder for developers, miners and farmers to alter the land” (11).
And why not? Why would the US Fish and Wildlife Service not simply declare critical habitat for them? With an animal like the Florida panther, with at most 160 surviving members, this decision seems to be simple, easy, one that should cause federal officials to sign the papers without blinking an eye. But the catch, the technicality preventing this from happening, is the fact that “the panther was put on the endangered list prior to 1978 — the year when Congress changed the Endangered Species Act to require the interior secretary to designate critical habitat for any species added to the endangered list” (11).
. . . Some finger pointing and bureaucratic nonsense has gotten in the way of saving Florida’s state animal. Even when three Florida Congressmen signed a petition to convince the US Fish and Wildlife Service to declare more land critical for the panther, the petition was rejected (11). At this point, it really feels like something more is going on behind the scenes. It would appear that land developers, agriculture, and suburbia have taken priority over the panther to the extent that even the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency which is responsible for protecting animals like the panther, has nearly abandoned them.

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