FWC seeks public’s help to protect native species


Published: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.

Sixty state species face the risk of losing the habitats they once called home, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants the public’s help to save them.

Facts

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is seeking public comment on plans to preserve the habitats of 23 native species including:

- 11 bird species Wakulla seaside sparrow, Scott’s seaside sparrow, Worthington’s marsh wren, Marian’s marsh wren, reddish egret, little blue heron, roseate spoonbill, tricolored heron, snowy egret, white ibis and osprey in Monroe County

- Five fish species: blackmouth shiner, Southeastern tessellated darter, bluenose shiner, harlequin darter and Lake Eustis pupfish

- Four mammals: Everglades mink, Sanibel island rice rat, Homosassa shrew and Eastern chipmunk

- Two reptiles: Barbour’s map turtle and Suwannee cooter

- One amphibian: Pine Barrens tree frog

The agency has asked residents and business owners alike to comment on a series of online “species action plans.”

These plans - available at MyFWC.com/Imperiled - detail the natural habitats of each listed species, why it’s at-risk and what can be done to save it.

“With so many species, we’re trying to have a more integrated approach,” said Diane Firth, FWC habitat and species spokeswoman. “Really, anyone can weigh in.”

Whether it’s a bird in your backyard or a small mammal on your business’ property, the FWC wants the public to offer new, innovative ideas in saving these animals – ideas that can help the species thrive and the humans that live near it maintain their land with little interruption.

Animals like the southern tessellated darter, the little blue heron and the snowy egret are threatened in Alachua County and surrounding areas.

The plans are about 20 to 30 pages long, said Claire Sunquist Blunden, stakeholder coordinator for the Imperiled Species Management Program.

Sunquist Blunden acknowledged that some might find the plans lengthy, but she noted that the original drafts were about 300 pages long. She said the new, shorter action plans include glossaries to make them easier for the general public to understand.

“We’re trying to get as much public interest in these species as possible so people know more about them and are aware they’re in their environment,” Sunquist Blunden said.

Currently, 23 action plans – one each for 11 birds, five fish, four mammals, two reptiles and one amphibian - are available for the public to read about and remark on until March 13.

Sunquist Blunden said after these plans close, the remaining listed species plans will be open for comment until the end of May.

“We don’t know all the answers,” Sunquist Blunden said. “By putting these out there at this early stage, we’re hoping people will let us know how the plans might impact them.”

Peter Frederick, a research professor with the UF department of wildlife ecology and conservation, said the FWC has reached out to leading scientists, institutions and conservation agencies to gather information for the plans.

Frederick said although bringing in other experts and organizations might cause disagreements, their compromises might be ultimately beneficial to these animals.

“Some of these plans address major societal problems instead of management problems,” Frederick said. “I think the crowdsourcing option was the right way to go.”

The plans are the first step in the FWC’s new conservation model, Sunquist Blunden said. The agency is working from the bottom up, starting with the individual species.

After the public’s opinions are collected, the FWC will work to integrate the plans. This means they will look for commonalities– where an animal lives, what it eats – and plan to conserve multiple species at the same time.

The final plan will be one large, compiled, completed draft and will be presented to state commissioners by 2015.

“The ultimate goal is to conserve them to the point that they don’t need to be listed anymore,” Sunquist Blunden said.

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