Florida Adopts New Standards for Endangered Species Listings

Published July 1, 2005

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) has approved new standards for identifying and protecting species in the state.

Objective Criteria Favored

On April 14 the FWCC jettisoned the state’s preexisting means for designating species as being “of special concern,” “threatened,” or “endangered,” in favor of international standards that rely on objective data instead of emotional public relations campaigns.

Under the new standards, a species will be listed as “endangered” if it is expected to lose 80 percent of its population within 10 years, is confined to 40 square miles, or has 250 or fewer mature individuals. A species will be listed as “threatened” or “of special concern” if it is imperiled but to a lesser extent.

The new standards apply solely to applications of the Florida Endangered Species Act of 1976 and do not affect the federal Endangered Species Act. The new standards consider Florida populations of species only.

The standards closely mirror those of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organization founded “to influence, encourage, and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.”

IUCN members include 82 nations, 111 government agencies, more than 800 nongovernmental organizations, and more than 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries.

Political Influence Removed

“Changes in how Florida classifies wildlife may ultimately mean a less politically charged label than ‘endangered’ for the manatee and other species considered most likely to die out,” reported the April 13 edition of Florida Today. “Biologists say the new listing rules would lend more scientific credibility to how they determine how much protection the creatures need.

“The state list, [which is] separate from the federal endangered species list, typically drives which Florida wildlife receives the most government attention and money,” Florida Today added.

“Clearly, this change is for the better,” said Sterling Burnett, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. “Once a species is listed, the government allocates resources to protect the species and its habitat, and develops recovery plans. These plans affect private property. Before government starts restricting people’s property, it should know to what extent a species is endangered. And that analysis involves numbers and hard counts. Government must know which species are most threatened and to what extent they are threatened.”

“I certainly favor more independent scientific review of information before a species is listed,” said Gretchen Randall, senior partner of the Winningreen LLC public policy consulting group. “Using more local data, if it is current and unbiased, will also be a plus. The difficulty remains in determining the species’ population from which recommendations or decisions about listing are made.”

Focuses on Vulnerable Species

FWCC Chairman Herky Huffman told the April 13 Orlando Sun-Sentinel that replacing subjective decisions with more objective rules would improve consistency while still protecting vulnerable species. An important component of the new standards is a requirement that upon listing, all species must be afforded a management and recovery plan.

“I don’t care if they’re endangered, threatened, or whatever, they’ll have a plan,” said Huffman.

“All species that go through our process will get a plan that will outline what is required for recovery,” added FWCC biologist Dan Sullivan, as reported by the Fort Myers News-Press on April 15.

Action for Manatees Debated

Opponents of the new standards include activist groups such as Defenders of Wildlife, Save the Manatee Club, and the Ocean Conservancy.

“It appears it’s going to result in the downlisting of many species that don’t warrant downlisting,” Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative for Defenders of Wildlife, told the Sun-Sentinel.

Steven Webster, executive director of the Florida Marine Contractors Association, countered that objective data rather than emotional public relations campaigns should dictate whether a species is listed.

Noting that FWCC agents have spotted more than 3,000 manatees in state waters, and that many more undoubtedly exist but have yet to be identified, Webster explained to Florida Today, “The manatee is at best threatened, and may only be a species of special concern.”

“Resources are opportunity costs,” observed Burnett. “Resources devoted to one species are no longer available for protecting other species or for other unrelated projects that benefit the environment or human welfare.”

Goal Is Species Recovery

“Florida saw the need to update its imperiled species listing process, much as many in Congress want to update and strengthen the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) so it actually recovers species instead of just listing them,” said Randall. “In the 31 years since ESA was passed, only 10 of 1,300 species have recovered enough to be de-listed. That is less than a 1 percent recovery rate.”

“We believe our actions today will make Florida’s process one of the most effective, science-based, recovery-oriented processes in the world, but we recognize the process may not be perfect,” Huffman noted in an April 14 news release. “That’s why we directed staff to provide us with updates about how the process is working and recommend further refinements as needed.”

“In moving to a more objective numerical basis for listing species, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has taken a step towards removing political agendas from influencing these decisions,” said Randall.

James Hoare ([email protected]) is managing attorney at the Syracuse, New York office of McGivney, Kluger & Gannon.

For more information …

The Web site of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature http://www.iucn.org/en/about/ has more information about objective standards for species protection.