Florida’s Imperiled Species Plan Updated

Florida has been a hotbed of conservation activity lately, with bats, panthers and black bears all making recent headlines. Now, 57 more of the state’s imperiled species are getting their time in the spotlight.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has recently updated its first ever plan to protect and recover all state listed Threatened and Special Concern species.

“We originally set out to create 60 individual species management plans but quickly discovered that it was really an almost impossible undertaking,” said Claire Sunquist Blunden, FWC’s stakeholder coordinator for the Imperiled Species Management Plan (ISMP) — a conservation plan that has been in the works since 2012 and outlines the overall approach for management of all at-risk species in Florida. “We think that the plan itself highlights the overlap between those species and the efficiencies we can create by grouping them together and managing them together.”

The changes came after the FWC received more than 500 comments from partners, stakeholders and the general public, many of whom were confused about why three federally protected species were included in the plan. To alleviate this confusion, the Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) and pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) have been removed from the ISMP.

“We tried to clearly explain how our authority would derive from the federal government with regard to those three species,” Sunquist Blunden said, “but it became clear in our review process that including them was more confusing and muddied the waters on our state authority versus federal authority.”

FWC will still work on issues dealing with federally protected animals in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), but as part of separate projects. In fact, FWS is currently developing its recovery plans for the Florida bonneted bat and pillar coral based on action plans created by FWC.

Other fundamental changes to the ISMP include the recommendation to remove the eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) from the state endangered species list and to keep the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) classified as a Species of Special Concern. FWC also called to rename “Species Guidelines” to “Species Conservation Measures and Permitting Guidelines” and re-organize those guidelines under the revised plan.

“They are… basically a summary of what we know and how it relates to the protections afforded to each of those species,” Sunquist Blunden said. The revised guidelines also address how the state manages incidental and intentional take of protected species.

As part of the plan, each species listed must have its own set of conservation measures and guidelines, but each individual set must be approved individually rather than under the umbrella of the ISMP. The plan lists objectives such as researching and reevaluating Species of Special Concern, filling data gaps in Species Action Plans and implementation of a monitoring plan for all species. By 2017, the Commission would like to have at least 10 percent of agency resources focused on supporting the ISMP and action plans.

Although the ISMP still has to be approved and recognized by the state register, FWC is implementing portions of the plan as it is developed and has been doing so since 2012 when work on the project began.

Header Image: Alligator snapping turtles are one of 57 species listed under Florida’s revised Imperiled Species Management Plan. The FWC recently discovered that there are actually three different species of this turtle in Florida. Until it is determined which of the species are at-risk, the reptile will remain a Species of Special Concern.
Image Credit Kevin Enge/FWC