Fish & Wildlife Service in Florida: Portrait of a Failed Agency

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Fish & Wildlife Service in Florida: Portrait of a Failed Agency

Obama Pick Piecemeals Florida Panther and Other Endangered Species to Extinction

Washington, DC — Sam Hamilton, the man tapped to run the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, presided over rampant destruction of open space vital to Florida’s fragile and fraying web of wildlife, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In order to justify his agency’s approvals of waves of development, Hamilton enabled FWS managers to skew science, terrorize scientists and drive out whistleblowers.

A compelling summary of Hamilton’s record over the past dozen years as FWS Southeast Regional Director was compiled by the Council of Civic Associations, Inc. (CCA), a not-for-profit network of more than 70 civic groups in South Florida. CCA delivered its report to top Interior officials on May 26, 2009, less than two weeks before the White House announcement on choosing Hamilton.

The CCA report touches on many subjects and species but its summary of FWS actions compounding the major threat to the acutely endangered Florida panther – habitat loss – is especially revealing:

  • Despite the loss of more than 3 million acres of panther habitat to development during the past 15 years, FWS has yet to designate a single acre of critical habitat to protect the panther from further intrusions;
  • In December, 2007, at the request of developers, FWS shrank the panther consultation area by nearly 900,000 acres, an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, meaning that the agency would not even need to review new construction in this large zone. Then in 2008, FWS concluded that there was not enough habitat remaining to allow the panther to recover in Florida; and
  • FWS is now encouraging a new developer-financed “Panther Protection” plan to develop another 45,000 acres of panther habitat in Collier County alone.

One result of this sprawl is that scores of panther are being run over by vehicle traffic on roads penetrating deeper into panther country. In 2009, partial numbers show five of the six panthers were killed by cars.

“In Florida the Fish & Wildlife Service has abetted a developer orgy at the expense of the wildlife it was supposed to shield,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Under Hamilton, the Service’s motto is ‘Even More’.”

PEER surveys of FWS scientists in Hamilton’s region reflect high levels of distrust and uncertainty about whether honest reporting of biological findings will be tolerated. In addition, PEER represented a key FWS panther biologist who in 2005 successfully showed that the agency had engaged systematic scientific fraud to justify its approvals of mega-construction projects as having no negative impact on the panther.

“Florida has become a horror show for wildlife biologists,” Ruch added. “After the very difficult Bush years, we had hoped for a director to turn this embattled agency around rather than leave it on autopilot.”


Read the CCA report

View the Florida panther mortality tables

See June 26, 2009 FWS letter reaffirming refusal to designate panther critical habitat

Look at the Florida Protection plan to develop another 42,000 acres

Examine Hamilton record on science and the Endangered Species Act

Trace the story of one FWS panther biologist

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