Five conservation groups, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER,) and the Council for Civic Associations, filed a lawsuit on February 18, 2010 in Federal District Court in Fort Myers, Florida against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Service’s failure to protect the Florida Panther.
Less than 100 Florida Panthers survive in the wild – clinging to less than five percent of their historic range. Their entire remaining habitat is located in a handful of South Florida Counties. It is the last of the eastern cougars which once roamed across the southern U.S., and is the last species of large cat east of the Mississippi River.
Although the panther has been listed as an endangered species since 1967, the Service has never designated critical habitat for the species. Critical habitat is a geographic area necessary to help an endangered species recover its population, and its designation is a critical tool within the Endangered Species Act. By its refusal to make this designation, only the panther is protected. But its habitat – the living and breeding space it must have to survive – is not.
In 2009 the five groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for the Florida panther. After more than a year of dithering, on February 11, 2010 the Service gave notice to the groups that it was denying their petitions and refusing to designate critical habitat. As a result, the groups are taking this action to protect the panther’s last remaining habitat, before it is irreversibly lost due to over-development and climate change.
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