Florida Black Bear in Danger

Defenders Warns FWS With 60-Day Notice Letter

(02/03/1999) - Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club today notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of their intent to sue the agency in federal court over its failure to list the imperiled Florida black bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Conservationists have struggled for almost a decade to win federal protection for this subspecies (Ursus americanus floridanus) by advocating its listing as threatened or endangered under the ESA.

"We are extremely disappointed with the decision that the Fish and Wildlife Service has made," Says Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. "There is no sound scientific justification for this action. The facts speak for themselves, these bears are in serious danger, they desperately needprotection, and they need it now."

In 1992, FWS said listing the bear was "warranted but precluded," meaning that listing would be justified by the extreme threats to the subspecies and its habitat but was precluded by the more pressing needs of other species on the long candidate list. Since then, scientists have issued a number of reports demonstrating thatthe threats to the Florida black bear are extremely pressing.

In November 1998, Defenders of Wildlife sent a 16-page letter to FWS further highlighting the urgency of the habitat threats. Two additional letters also supporting immediate federal protection were sent to FWS from former Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission biologists James Cox and David Maehr, stressing the same points.

"Conservationists and scientists are in agreement on this," says Mike Senatore, wildlife counsel for Defenders of Wildlife. "There is no legal or scientific justification for the Service's refusal to list this imperilled species under the ESA."

Habitat destruction and road kills are the two main threats to the bears. In 1998 alone, 90 bears were killed on Florida roads. A 1994, Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission report entitled "Closing Gaps in Florida's Wildlife Habitat Conservation System," depicted the bear's shrinking habitat.

"The service is willing to stand by and watch half of the subpopulations die out," declares Laurie Macdonald, the Defenders of Wildlife Florida representative who administers the Habitat for Bears Campaign. "What's more, their inaction today will result in expansive, exhaustive, high-risk efforts to save the Florida bear tomorrow. As it stands now, the Florida black bear is headed toward the same fate as the passenger pigeon and other extinct species."



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270