RECOVERY NEWS

Florida Panther Biologist Reinstated
June 2005 – The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has restored a biologist who forced the agency to admit that it was using flawed science. Andrew Eller, Jr., an 18-year USFWS biologist who had worked in the Florida panther recovery program, was fired by FWS the week after the November election. A victory for Andrew Eller is a huge win for not only the Florida Panther but also the many other scientists, resource professionals and law enforcement officers who strive for environmental ethics and government accountability.

Another Court Victory for Panthers!
April 2005 - A U.S. district court judge has ruled that the Corps of Engineers illegally failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the impacts on the endangered Florida panther of nationwide dredge-and-fill permits issued in 2002. The case was brought against the Corps by the National Wildlife Federation and Florida Panther Society. Read the Press Release
Read the Court Decision

Eller/PEER DQA Legal Complaint Upheld!
March 2005 - The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) formally conceded that it has been using flawed science in assessing the habitat and population of the endangered Florida panther. The agency announcement came in a decision to uphold a legal complaint filed jointly by one of the agency’s own biologists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that studies relied upon by USFWS in approving proposed development in Southwest Florida inflate panther population and inaccurately minimize habitat needs. See outgoing USFWS Director Steve William's letter to PEER
Visit PEER's Panther Campaign Website.

FPS Hires First Staff Member!
March 2005 - The Florida Panther Society, Inc. hired its first staff member, Brian F. Call as Director. The Society has been volunteer run since 1994. Call is an award winning professional photographer and environmental activist. He was recently president of the Friends of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and served on the board since 2001. He is also on the board of the Friends of Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and is an active member of the Friends of Big Cypress National Preserve.

Brian became involved with efforts to save the Florida panther after finding a road killed Florida panther kitten left on the centerline of SR 29 in Collier county in May of 2001. Brian organized a Panther Awareness Memorial for the two panther kittens, siblings, that were killed that night. This successful event brought attention to the plight of all panthers. During his tenure as President of the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge, Brian helped organize another Roadside Awareness Memorial in a joint effort with Karen Hill and the Florida Panther Society. From that dual event the Panthers & Pavement Campaign emerged.

USFWS Fires Whistleblower Andrew Eller
November 8, 2004 - The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has decided to terminate the biologist who publicly challenged its reliance on flawed studies about the habitat and population of the endangered Florida panther, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Read the press release. Visit PEER's Panther Campaign Website.

Judge Revokes Rock Mine Permit!
August 2004 - The Court found that the permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the Florida Rock Industry mine outside Ft. Myers, FL, was "arbitrary and capricious" because it did not consider the project's impact on the overall loss of panther habitat. The permit was issued based on a "no jeopardy" opinion reached by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The finding is the result of legal action filed in 2003 by The National Wildlife Federation, The Florida Wildlife Federation, and The Florida Panther Society, Inc. Read the Court Decision.

US Fish & Wildlife Service firing whistle-blower Andrew Eller
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed to terminate the biologist who publicly challenged its reliance on flawed studies related to the habitat and population of the endangered Florida panther, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Visit PEER's Panther Campaign Website

Eller Does Not Stand Alone
July 2004

Andrew Eller does not stand alone in recognizing the flawed science used by the US Fish & Wildlife Service Vero Beach Office. Rather than being fired, Eller deserves commendation for his bold effort to move his agency out from under the debris of bad science and into the light of the sunshine state. Read our position letter: Eller Does Not Stand Alone

Discrediting a Decade of Panther Science:
Implications of the Scientific Review Team Report

January 2004

A new report indicts the federal government for relying on discredited science to justify destruction of the endangered Florida panther’s last remaining habitat and calls upon agency officials to make immediate adjustments.

The report is entitled Discrediting a Decade of Panther Science: Implications of the Scientific Review Team Report, by the National Wildlife Federation, the Florida Panther Society and the Florida Wildlife Federation. Read the Report. Read the News Release.

Conservation Groups Seek Court Relief to Protect Panther Habitat
June 2003

          To achieve recovery of the endangered Florida Panther, the stability of a fully monitored population must be assured by protecting panther habitat in south Florida.

          The Florida Panther Society along with the National Wildlife Federation and the Florida Wildlife Federation filed two separate legal actions in Federal District Court to protect the rapidly diminishing habitat of this endangered big cat. Read the News Release

Recovery Team Update
October - November 2002

Atlanta, Georgia: The Florida Panther Recovery Program is a
"Work in Progress"

by Stephen Williams

          November 2002 - Karen Hill and I took a trip to Atlanta to attend a Reintroduction sub-team meeting of the panther recovery team held at the National Wildlife Federation regional office. Here was yet another opportunity to press for recovery and to have input into the process initiated by the "Endangered Species Act" of so many years ago. Threats outlined in the previous meeting were reviewed, addressed and yes were coalescing into a workable plan to bring Puma concolor coryi back from the edge of extinction.
          Nearly a dozen representatives were present. Frank VanManen and Cindy Thatcher of the University of Tennessee, having been assigned the Habitat Assessment to Identify Potential Panther Restoration Sites, brought preliminary data forth which considered the former range in the southeast and it's current value regarding human population density, land use, roads, and prey base. Three sites, one each in Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida show significant promise for relocation of panthers from south Florida in order to establish breeding populations and eventually delist the subspecies. The final Restoration Site Report is due in June 2003.
          Driving home, it all soaks in that there is progress. Reintroduction - We speak in terms of three to five years, some others feel it may be as much as ten, but maybe the panthers, if given a chance, can prove us all wrong and be home sooner if we would just give them the chance.

by Karen C. Hill

          October 2002 - The South Florida sub-team meeting of the Florida Panther Recovery Team was held in Naples, FL. We began with a review of project status and discussion of the current verified population of panthers, which now numbers 80. Priority 1 panther habitat will support 71-84 panthers, and priority 2 habitat can support 6-10 panthers, depending on the ratio used: 1/20,000 acres or 1/32,000 acres. If secondary areas are restored, they may hold up to 30 cats. A population of 115 panthers is considered moderately viable according to some PVA models, however it will continue to need genetic introgression. We confirmed that the south Florida population is important in itself and should be managed for stability and to donate panthers for translocation to reestablish populations in the southeastern U. S.
          After initial discussion, we moved on to addressing the threats outlined in the previous meeting. Many of the same topics were again discussed, although several proactive ideas were also brought up, including a booklet on managing lands for panthers and a guide to land uses that are compatible with panthers. Threats from CERP implementation were discussed as some 20,000 acres of panther habitat may be affected. Also, data on Mercury in panthers will be collected and reviewed. Hair, blood and tissue tests on live and dead radio-collared panthers are still taken and analyzed for mercury. FWC samples from 3-4 years ago will be sent out for analysis as well.
          Many factors contribute to the success of a population, including genetics, habitat quality, quantity and connectivity, as well as the number of breeding adult panthers. Breeding panthers are the core of the population, as kitten mortality can be as high as 50 to 70% and there are still male panthers out there with no descended testicles and thus unable to breed. (FPS Note: The genetic introgression from the restoration program still needs to move through the entire population. There is some concern that telemetry monitoring efforts by the FWC will be reduced. This action could prove unfortunate, as telemetry data gives us critical information on the number of breeding cats in the population.)
          We clearly cannot afford to lose individual cats or allow threats to reduce the population back down to 30 to 50 animals. The functional, breeding, part of this population remains south of the Caloosahatchee River. This is where habitat protection remains critical. In addition, the MERIT subteam's Panther Conservation Strategy has not yet been released for public review or implementation (see page 3). Some developers have disagreements over the habitat map included in the report. They would like their property removed from the map, as they argue that panthers do not use it. In fact panthers do use the lands for hunting prey during dusk to dawn hours. Current telemetry data only include daytime resting places. A recently published scientific paper, by Jane Comiskey et al, details the various habitats used by panthers and the problems associated with using only daytime telemetry data in habitat management, protection, and mitigation for development (see below).

Detailed information on panther habitat use can be found in a scientific paper by Jane Comiskey, et al. Panthers and Forests in South Florida: an Ecological Perspective. Available online at
http://www.consecol.org/vol6/iss1/art18/manuscript.html

RECOVERY TEAM MEETS AGAIN

December 2001: The Florida Panther Recovery Team met in Tampa Florida at the Lowry Park Zoo for its second meeting to revise the recovery plan. After a brief overview, the team divided into two sub-teams as planned. The South Florida team will deal with specific issues facing the existing population and the Reintroduction team will deal with the possibilities of translocating panthers to establish breeding populations in the southeastern United States. Read below for details on each sub-team's meeting.

South Florida Sub-Team
by Karen C. Hill

As I looked around the table at the members of the SFL group, I was amazed at the amount of knowledge and years of panther experience surrounding me. As tedious as it can get to sort through the same issues I've heard over the past four years, I still find myself grateful for all the energy these individuals have put into panther recovery. It motivates me to see this endeavor through to the full re-establishment of the panther in the southeastern United States.

Our team focus is on keeping the panther population south of Orlando stable and healthy over the next 10 years so that it can contribute to establishment and maintenance of future breeding populations in other parts of its historic range. For this we also kept in mind a 100 year 'horizon' for the survival of the species, as this number is often used in PVA's to determine extinction rates.

We are using a Conservation Planning tool developed by the Nature Conservancy to prioritize the threats as outlined in the first meeting. The process was slow at first, until we began to see how it was organizing our knowledge of the issues facing the panther. It works by using a scale of low to very high to rank the individual stresses by severity and scope. Then it ranks the source of each stress by contribution and irreversibility. Finally the two charts are combined to show where the highest priorities are. This will allow the recovery plan to address immediate issues and later quantify effectiveness of threat reduction. Remember, the Endangered Species Act, Sec.4f1B, now requires threats to be broken down into five categories as a means to clarify the listing and delisting of a species.

In the end it is clear that the main threat facing panthers today is Habitat Loss due to fragmentation, degradation, and loss of connectivity that are reducing the populations ability to expand naturally in to areas north of the Caloosahatchee River. Our next meeting will be held in Naples, Florida. A 'tour' of panther habitat is planned to give everyone a clear idea of what we are dealing with.

Reintroduction Sub-Team
by Stephen L. Williams

The reintroduction team has a slightly different challenge in the recovery process than the south Florida group. We used the same planning tool provided by the Nature Conservancy, however we are dealing with habitat issues in areas of the country where there is currently no breeding population of panthers. Every prerequisite and pitfall, which bears on reclassification or recovery and delisting, was on the table.

The discussion included the elements of populations and their size and locations. Again the questions of range, prey base, the ability of the cats to adapt, and community tolerance and support were addressed. Local and regional concerns, which would inevitably affect the success or failure of the program, were sifted and weighted. Land uses such as agriculture, livestock production, recreational activities, and hunting present challenges for the reintroduction of any endangered species. We can learn from the Panther Reintroduction Feasibility Study and from other predator recovery programs such as the gray wolf in the west and southwest and the red wolf in the Carolinas and the black bear reintroduction in Louisiana.

Two things were apparent throughout the meeting. One, the reintroduction site must be carefully chosen and two, significant preparation is needed to build the base of support in the communities in order to assure success. It is obvious that the non-government organization's presence and their commitment to the process will be a key element in the development of community support. The agencies, both state and federal, have the tools to achieve recovery of Puma concolor coryi, the southeastern panther, but will require the American public to show its support in the political sense.

I believe that the National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, and Nature Conservancy are strongly committed. Smaller organizations and individuals must show their support in every way that is available to them by writing and speaking with agency representatives, political figures, community leaders and even our neighbors so that the process will move forward.

You can help by writing a letter in support of re-establishing panther populations in appropriate portions of their historic range.

Send your letter to:

US Fish and Wildlife Service
Southeast Regional Office
C/O Sam Hamilton, Regional Director
1875 Century Blvd.
Atlanta, GA 30345

Send a copy of your letter to your Senators and US Representative

PANTHER RECOVERY PLAN MOVES INTO 21ST CENTURY
by Karen C. Hill

July, 2001- The new Florida Panther Recovery Team (FPRT) met for the first time to revise the Florida Panther Recovery Plan (FPRP). Fourteen years ago, 1987, is the last time an FPRT met to revise the Plan in full. Previous teams consisted of only 4 members: representatives from the main agencies involved. Not this time. The new team, headed by the USFWS, has 32 members representing various groups with interest in what will be done to achieve panther recovery. The idea is to include all stakeholders in the process from the beginning. The people will also get to have their say when a draft plan is released for public review next summer. For now, your voice is represented by FPS. We aren't the only ones there speaking up for what we believe full recovery means, and together we weren't going to let this meeting close without mention of establishing other panther populations within its historic range of the southeastern United States. Yes, the words were finally spoken, and the FPRT is now talking Reintroduction! Feel free to stand up and do your victory dance….then sit back down with us, because there is a lot of work to do to achieve this long overdue goal.

In order to meet Endangered Species Act requirements for recovery plans, ESA Sec.4f1B, the team needs to identify 'Objective, measurable criteria, which when met, would result in a determination, in accordance with the provisions of this section, that the species be removed from the list'. This is accomplished through Threat Analysis and Recovery Criteria/Actions that are broken down into five factors. This alone is a big part of the revision. Then comes the job of estimating time and cost requirements to carry out these recovery measures. The team will be broken down into two sub-teams to address specific issues in the south Florida population and Reintroduction issues in the southeastern U.S.

After a draft plan is released and reviewed by the public next fall, and then finalized by the FPRT, it will need to be signed by the USFWS, and that could take time. Then an EIS will need to be done, taking approximately 2 years. This is the time frame we are looking at for even starting the process of physically putting panthers on the ground somewhere in the southeast. So, what do we do in the meantime? A-ha! We do what FPS has been working on all along, increase public awareness of the panther, only this time we extend our efforts throughout the panthers historic range.

The recovery plan was partially revised in 1995 to include the Genetic Restoration Program that, now complete, has successfully restored historic gene flow between Texas cougars and Florida Panthers, giving the isolated population a much needed boost of genetic vigor. Now the estimated number of cats in south Florida is 50 to 70. An unfortunate side effect to this success is the slightly higher number of cats being hit and killed by cars. This is also affected by the increased loss of panther habitat in south Florida. Young male cats in search of new territory are crossing the Caloosahatchee River and meeting the same demise, death by vehicle. Panther habitat north of the river isn't much more plentiful, though it may contain important linkages between large areas of land that may be used to increase the carrying capacity of the south Florida population. The MERIT subteam of the south Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan (MSRP) is developing maps of potential panther habitat in those areas. Their work on the panther component of the MSRP will be integrated into the FPRP.

The Florida Panther Society is mainly concerned with full recovery, and to us this means reintroduction. Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina state wildlife agencies are all on the FPRT, as well as National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Quality Deer Management Association, International Paper, and the National Association of Homebuilders. (Please note: the opinions expressed in this article are that of FPS only, as we cannot speak for any other group on the team.) This is where we will begin to talk about the specifics of establishing other breeding panther populations. The next FPRT meeting is scheduled for October.

While the FPRP mainly deals with the biological, scientific and physical needs of recovery, it is not designed to meet the needs for increased public awareness throughout the southeast. In August, The National Wildlife Federation held the first workshop in a series, designed to complement the FPRT meetings, to address this need. We heard from people involved in Red Wolf Reintroduction, Louisiana Black Bear Recovery, Selway-Biterroot Grizzly Bear efforts, and Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction. We learned specific ways in which agencies, Non-Government Organizations (NGO's), and private landowners can work together to resolve the social and economic issues around reintroduction. This is a landmark time in panther recovery, marking the start of a new era, one where everyone is involved in achieving full recovery.

JAMES J. CLOSE AWARD

"Youth Conservationist of the Year 1999"

The James J. Close Award is presented to an outstanding young person or persons who has performed significant service in the interest of Felis concolor coryi.

The Florida Panther Society is appreciative of the invaluable efforts of all young people on behalf of wildlife protection and preservation of habitat. Their realization that active stewardship is synonymous with caring moves them to take positive steps to protect this subspecies of American lion, steps that make a difference. We proudly announce the recipients for 1999 to be:

Pershing Elementary School of Orlando, FL and Apollo Junior High of Richardson, TX

The Florida Panther Socity honors these schools for their symbolic efforts of working together toward recovery of Felis concolor coryi, as Texas and Florida cats have done in the Genetic Restoriation Program in South Florida. Their fundraising efforts, "Kiss a Pig" and "Pennies for Panthers", involved collecting pennies from students, faculty, and friends to donate to The Florida Panther Socity. They helped raise awareness and provided a forum for student education on Florida panther recovery. Congratulations on a job well done!

Florida Folk Festival: May 28-30, 1999 On line again this year for our Society is the upcoming 47th Florida Folk Festival here in White Springs, Florida. This will be the fifth anniversary of a portion of the festival, which was initiated by the FPS: "The Florida Environmental Exhibit". Up to eight regional and state environmental groups such as Florida Defenders of the Environment, Sierra and Audubon Chapters and others participate each year. With individual exhibits on a range of subjects displayed in a 40' x 20' tent, several thousand people will receive information about issues and the environment including the Florida panther's plight.

FPS ANNUAL MEETING: JUNE 5-6, 1999 This year our annual general meeting for the Florida Panther Society will take place in White Springs, Florida at the society's business office on Stephen Foster Dr., 10 am until 3 pm each day. Agenda to beposted on the FPS website.

Your FPS volunteer staff (Karen, Shauna, and Steve) had been busy this past April 1999. On Thursday April 15 our display table was at the "Earth Day Past Present and Future" Celebrating Earth Day at the University of Florida campus. The following week on April 21st an all day display and lobbying effort was held in the State capital in Tallahassee. The event was in support of legislation entitled Forever Florida which is the successor bill to Preservation 2000. P-2000 has been the major contributor in public funding for habitat preservation since the late 80's in Florida. Finally enough energy was found to bring our exhibit tent and table to the 1999 "Farm and Forest Festival" in Morningside Nature Center in Gainesville April 30th through May 2nd.

Please welcome Karen Howard to the FPS board of directors. As vice president, she will bring a second wind of enthusiasm toward our efforts to protect and support the Florida Panther. Karen was recently part of a Columbia County workgroup on panther reintroduction feasibility. Check out her article, Fear and the Facts.

We welcome our new Program Director Shauna Land to the staff of the FPS. Shauna is majoring in Human Ecology at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor Maine. In early March she called our office to inquire of the possibility of serving her internship with FPS. She outlined her education and credentials in the environmental field. They included coursework in her major, state and federal hearings on the lynx and an Eastern cougar conference. She also has a years experience working at the Acadia Zoo with reptiles and large cats. As a result of her interest in cougars, Shauna sough out FPS to offer 400 hours of volunteer work. After some days of discussion a three point schedule of activity for the summer of 1999 was established. Shauna will serve as our liaison with the former Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission (now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office in Gainesville, Florida. Her major effort however, will focus on the establishment of a FPS chapter on the campus of the University of Florida as a model for new chapters on campuses and in communities.

THE ORION SOCIETY
FPS has joined The Orion Society as one of over sixty organizational members. We will work with them toward our mutual goals of environmental education and habitat protection. The aims of The Orion Society: To heal the fractured relationship between people and nature by undertaking educational programs and publications that integrate all aspects of the relationship: the physically immediate, the analytical and scientific, the inspirational and creative.To support changes in ethics and action at the local level that will offer genuine solutions to the global environmental crisis. To cultivate a generation of citizen leaders whose wisdom is grounded inand guided by nature literacy. Visit their website at: www.orionsociety.org

Renewals and Old Memberships
Due to new staffing FPS would like to extend a one year courtesy membership to all members that predate July 1998. All one-year memberships will be up for renewal in July 1999.

The James J. Close Award
"Youth Conservationist of the Year 1998"
The James J. Close Award is presented to an outstanding young person or persons who during the preceding 12 months have performed significant service in the interest of Felis concolor coryi. The Florida Panther Society, Inc. (FPS) is appreciative of the invaluable efforts of all young people on behalf of wildlife protection and preservation of habitat.
Their realization that active stewardship is synonymous with caring moves them to take positive steps to protect this subspecies of American lion, steps that can make a difference. This award is presented annualy on or about September 30th.
We proudly announce the recipients for 1998 to be:
Ryan Williams and Brian Wyman
of Waterloo Elementary School
5940 Waterloo Road
Columbia, Maryland 21045
Ryan and Brian have created a Florida Panther "Kids Edition" brochure that accurately offers a description of this subspecies of American lion, its preferred prey and behavior. This brochure will be distributed to schools 3rd through 5th grade and will be available at our website.
The application for nominations for the Youth Conservationist of the Year will be available at the FPS website soon. A brief biography of the benefactor, James J. Close, who has made this award available, will also be posted.

Events from 1998

Florida Panther Genetic Restoration Progress Report
January, February, March 1999
Summary of the movements of the six remaining Texas cougars that were released into south Florida to help restore genetic diversity in the Florida panther population. Also includes the six panthers born so far as a result of the project.

Florida Panther Society Inc. Information Services Program Director, Christopher B. Davis receives award.
Florida Wildlife Federation 60th Annual Conservation Awards Program, September 13th, 1997, Indian River Plantation Marriot Resort on Hutchinson Island Stuart, Florida--- "Youth Conservationist of the Year". As a graduating senior and valedictorian of his class of 1997 from North Florida Christian High School in Tallahassee, Christopher B. Davis has a proven record of academic and community service. Christopher was nominated for this honor based upon his work on behalf of the Florida panther, and wildlife and conservation in general through the production and editing of a website for the Florida Panther Society. Through this significant and innovative contribution, Christopher has made useof the Internet to educate citizens about the panther and the joint state and federal recovery plan to prevent its extinction. Since going online in July of 1996, the web site has averaged 250 visits per week, totalling over 17,000 as of November of this year. In honor of the important work done by this very special young man, the Florida Wildlife Federation names Christopher B. Davis as Youth Conservationist of the yearfor 1997.
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