"The scientists and wildlife officials have repeatedly provided overwhelming evidence of the need to protect the Florida black bear under the Endangered Species Act," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president, Defenders of Wildlife. "There is no excuse for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's refusal to do so. This is yet another example of the Fish and Wildlife Service's policy of avoiding controversial listings under the Act. As with the lynx and Atlantic salmon, Defenders is having to litigate to secure federal protection for the Florida black bear."
The 1998 decision by FWS not to list the bear directly contradicted the agency's own 1991 finding that listing of the bear was "warranted but precluded" under the ESA. At that time, the agency found that a listing was justified by the extreme threats to the subspecies and its habitat but also concluded that such action was precluded at the time by more pressing needs of other species on the candidate list.
Since 1991, scientists and Florida's wildlife agency have issued a number of reports demonstrating that threats to the Florida black bear are extremely urgent. In 1994, the Florida Game and FreshWater Fish Commission (recently renamed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) issued a report entitled "Closing the Gaps in Florida's Wildlife Habitat Conservation System, "graphically depicting the bear's shrinking habitat base. Most recently, in 1998, conservationists and former government scientists warned FWS that timely protection of the Florida black bear is crucial for its survival and that it must be listed under the ESA. The warning came in a December 1 letter sent by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.
"The plight of the bear centers on conversion and fragmentation of its habitat," said Laurie Macdonald, who coordinates the Habitat for Bears Campaign, a joint effort by Defenders of Wildlife and the Florida Sierra Club. "Since FWS' 1991 finding, it is clear the threats facing the bear are only intensifying, not diminishing," Macdonald added.
The Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus), a unique subspecies of the American black bear, has been listed as threatened by the state of Florida since 1974. Habitat loss has played a leading role in reducing the subspecies' numbers from as many as 12,000 historically to estimates under 2,000 today. The bear has also been subject to an escalating rate of mortality caused by vehicle collisions. Roadkills have steadily risen over the past seven years, with a record 88 bears killed on Florida roads in 1998.
"The FWS has completely ignored the escalation in habitat threats and road mortality of black bears and even writes off several populations like the Chassahowitza," said Mike Senatore, wildlife counsel at Defenders of Wildlife. "There is absolutely no reason legally or scientifically not to list the black bear."
A federal ESA listing would engage the state in stronger conservation measures and involve FWS in consultation on a variety of road and development projects that would impact bears and their habitat. Listing also would result in greater intergovernmental coordination on bear management, conservation, and research while promoting incentives and cooperative management agencies on private lands.
Plaintiffs in the litigation are represented by Eric Glitzenstein of the Washington, D.C. law firm Meyer & Glitzenstein.
**ATTENTION TELEVISION AND CABLE OUTLETS** Broadcast quality b-roll footage of the imperiled Florida black bear is available from Defenders of Wildlife. The footage was obtained by Defenders of Wildlife for media use and filmed by videographer Charles Towne of Apopka, FL. Mr. Towne caught rare and unique images of the small shy bears in central Florida's Wekiva basin including cubs and adult bears climbing trees and foraging for food.
For a copy of the complaint and B-roll, contact: Jesal Mehta.
Contact(s):Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270