Fla. panther count found to be
Wildlife agency to correct
methodsPublished by news-press.com on March 22,
WASHINGTON — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
officials acknowledged Monday their methodology of counting
endangered Florida panthers was wrong.
welcomed the announcement but worried it will do nothing to slow the
pace of growth in Southwest Florida, which is gobbling up precious
"The Fish and Wildlife Service currently is
reviewing 30 very large projects slated for construction right in
the middle of prime panther habitat," said Jeff Ruch, executive
director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials promised to
correct the flawed panther-count data but those corrections may not
be done in time to determine the true impact on panther habitat from
large construction projects already on the books, including Ave
Maria University, Southwest Florida International Airport expansion
and several gated communities, Ruch said.
Over the past 25
years, Florida panther numbers have approximately quadrupled to
nearly 90, according to the agency's press release.
A spokesman for the government agency deflected
"We're going to continue to apply the best
available science on every permit request we get," said Jeff
Fleming, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Ruch's organization had claimed the government
agency undercounted the
Florida panthers, primarily by counting the
animals and tracking their movements during the day even though the
creatures are nocturnal and more active at night.
agency made assumptions about the survivability of panther kittens
that were overly optimistic, Ruch said.
In a statement
Monday, Fish and Wildlife Service officials credited the agency with
acting to correct the panther count once flaws were identified.
"However, we should have moved more quickly to
incorporate this evolving knowledge into some planning documents and
biological opinions, an oversight that we regret and are working to
correct," Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Marshall Jones
To fix the problem, the agency plans to update several
panther-related documents and files.
The agency, however, did not move to reinstate
Andrew Eller Jr., an 18-year biologist with the agency.
was fired last November. Eller and PEER filed a complaint alleging
the Fish and Wildlife Service engaged in scientific
PEER is contesting Eller's termination. The case is
set for an April hearing, according to the group's news release on
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