Threatened & Endangered Species

Florida panther, US Fish and Wildlife ServiceSpecies judged as threatened or endangered are listed by state, federal, and international agencies as well as by some private organizations.  Threatened and endangered species reach their status because of one or more of five factors:

1. Natural Causes

Extinction is recognized as a natural biological process consistent with the concepts of evolution.  Based on fossil records, birds have a mean species lifespan of about 2 million years, while mammals have a mean species lifespan of about 600,000 years.  Extinction by natural causes may mean the actual death of a species or the evolution of the species into one or more new forms.  Overspecialization, competition, sudden climatic change, or catastrophic events such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions are natural causes of species' death.

2. Introduced Exotic Predators

Introduction of exotic species to ecosystems often disrupts natural systems, especially when a predator is introduced.  Native species are seldom adapted to handle these often devastating components of their environment.  Sometimes predators are introduced to control another exotic species, thus compounding the biological effects on the system.  Exotic predators will inevitably turn to native fauna or flora in search of food. 

3. Nonpredatory Exotics

Nonpredatory exotics are often agents of competition and/or disease.  Other effects may also be attributed to their introduction. 

4. Habitat Modification or Destruction

Habitat destruction and disturbance are the most devastating causes of extinction.  Drainage schemes, reservoir construction, industrial and agricultural development, deforestation, and commercial and residential development are too often the basis for the threatened or endangered status of plants and animals.  Analysis of the history of extinction strongly indicates that humans have been the prime cause of extinction since A.D. 1600 and continue to exert negative impacts.  Only one quarter of the species becoming extinct in modern times apparently died out due to natural causes, with humans taking responsibility for the balance.

The following characteristics may predispose certain animals to becoming threatened or endangered: 

  • Species with narrow habitat requirements
  • Species of economic importance (e.g., blue whale, sea turtle, ocelot, Atlantic salmon)
  • Species of large size, especially predators, and/or those intolerant of humans (or vice versa) (e.g., grizzly bear, Florida panther, bald eagle, Asiatic lion, gray wolf)
  • Species having limited numbers of offspring per breeding, long gestation periods, or those requiring extensive parental care (e.g., mountain gorilla, Mississippi sandhill crane, Abbot's booby, California condor)
  • Species with highly specialized adaptations, or high genetic vulnerability (e.g., manatee, Auckland flightless teal, red wolf, giant panda)

Federal Law

Efforts to control the rate of human-induced extinctions in the U.S. date back to the Lacey Act in 1900, passed in response to the threatened extinction of the carrier pigeon. 

In 1966, Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act, which established the National Wildlife Refuge System.  The Act was an attempt to preserve endangered vertebrates (mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles) by establishing habitat refuges and prohibiting the taking of such animals on these lands. 

The passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, which is currently subject to reauthorization by Congress, is of primary importance to Florida's forestry community.  The ultimate goal of the ESA is to conserve threatened* and endangered* plant and animal species by listing species in this condition and then improving their status until they can be removed from this list.  About 16 species have been removed from the list since the Act's passage.

  • * A threatened species is one likely to become endangered.
  • * An endangered species is one in danger of becoming extinct.

Currently, Florida has over 100 plant and animal species listed as either Threatened or Endangered. Another 256 species are candidates for protection in Florida under the ESA.

red-cockaded woodpecker, Fort Bragg, US ArmyThe Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (RCW)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has jurisdiction for onshore and freshwater species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) (Picoides borealis) and maintains the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. The National Marine Fisheries Service, a Commerce Department agency, has jurisdiction over marine species such as Atlantic salmon.

Of Florida's listed species, the RCW has had the greatest impact on forestry activities in Florida.  The reason for this is the bird's need for older pine trees for roosting/nesting cavities as well as extensive forests for foraging and mating. Federal guidelines for RCW management and recovery, currently implemented by the U.S. Forest Service in Florida, have reduced saw timber harvests on the State's National Forests. This trend is expected to continue beyond the next decade.

Private Landowner RCW Recovery Obligations

While the ESA requires federal agencies to manage for and recover RCW populations, it does not specify that private landowners have the same management obligations.  It does require that landowners do not "take" (harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, collect, capture or kill) the bird. 

The definition of "harm" has been interpreted to include significant habitat modification.  While this interpretation was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995 (Sweet Home case), the decision did impose some limits on the broad "harm" definition currently applied by Federal agencies.  A 1997 ruling by the Supreme Court in the Bennett vs. Spears case affirmed that any individual having an economic interest which is adversely affected has standing to bring suit under the ESA.

Statewide RCW Safe Harbor Agreement Established
Private properties in Florida may be home to as many as 10% of Florida’s remaining RCW groups.  In an effort to foster partnerships for the conservation of red-cockaded woodpeckers on private lands, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) signed a statewide RCW Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in August 2006. 

Private landowners and their properties are critical to conservation efforts targeting imperiled species. Many private landowners are good land stewards who already conserve wildlife through their management efforts, but providing habitat for wildlife becomes an obligation when species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) occur on the property. For this reason, the ESA effectively creates a disincentive to private landowners who are often concerned about land use restrictions that may occur if listed species colonize their property or increase in numbers as a result of land management. This disincentive causes some landowners to avoid or limit land management practices that could otherwise enhance or maintain habitat for listed species.  Some landowners even destroy unoccupied habitat to prevent occupation by listed species – even when they would otherwise prefer to keep habitat intact. 

So why would I want to bother with RCWs?

The Safe Harbor Program was created to address these legitimate concerns. The concept was created by a cooperative effort between the USFWS and Environmental Defense, a non-government organization. The first Safe Harbor Agreement was established for the RCW in the sandhills of North Carolina. Participation in a Safe Harbor program assures landowners that their voluntary conservation actions will not result in increased land use restrictions in the future.

Here’s how it works: under Florida’s RCW Safe Harbor Agreement, a landowner is only required to protect the number of RCW groups present on the property (along with a minimum amount of foraging habitat) at the beginning of the agreement. This is termed the baseline responsibility. If a landowner increases the number of RCW groups on his/her property, for example, he/she is not legally obligated to protect these “surplus” groups. At any time – and with a 60-day notice to FWC – a landowner can alter the habitat of these “surplus” groups. In return for these regulatory assurances, the landowner agrees to conduct certain management activities such as prescribed burning, midstory hardwood reduction, and/or thinning of dense pine stands. Managing for RCWs promotes a healthy forest and is usually compatible with quail management, timber harvesting, and cattle ranching. Florida’s RCW Safe Harbor program is available to landowners with habitat that is occupied by RCWs, or is likely to be suitable RCW habitat. Safe Harbor agreements are especially beneficial to landowners who want to maintain mature, open pine forests within or near established RCW populations. 

What if I want out or want to sell my property?

Involvement in the program is completely voluntary and participating landowners may cancel the agreement at any time with a 60-day notice to FWC. The agreement is also transferable to a new owner if the property is sold. If the new owner signs a Safe Harbor Agreement, he/she will assume the same baseline responsibility as the original landowner. Thus, under a Safe Harbor Agreement, property value would not diminish if “surplus” RCW groups are grown. Involvement in Florida’s RCW Safe Harbor Program in no way limits landowners’ rights to sell their land.

What about red tape and getting some assistance?

Private landowners who sign up for this program will be included under FWC’s umbrella permit. Inclusion under the umbrella permit is a streamlined process for landowners because most of the red tape is handled by the FWC. There are also many state and federal programs that can assist landowners in achieving their management objectives and conserving RCWs. Cost-share funds are available under programs such as FWC’s Landowner Incentives Program (LIP), the USFWS’ Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (PFW), or through the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s conservation programs.

How do I sign up?

To learn more about FWC's Red-cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program, see the FWC Safe Harbor page, or contact Caly Murphy by phone at (850) 488-3831 or by email at caly.murphy@myfwc.com.

To learn more about FWC's incentive based conservation programs, please contact Tom Ostertag by phone at (850) 488-3831 or by email at tom.ostertag@myfwc.com


The Role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The EPA's registration of pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is considered to be "authorization" under the ESA.  Therefore, EPA is required to ensure that the registration of pesticides and their use are not likely to jeopardize threatened or endangered species. 

Products required to indicate use limitations on their label or which reference "County Bulletins" in order to protect listed species and which do not carry required information, will be identified through routine state inspections of manufacturing facilities and pesticide distributors and dealers or through information received regarding suspected misbranding.  Pesticide misuse will be identified similarly through routine inspections and information provided regarding alleged misuse.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also has the right to take enforcement action if a person harms a listed species through pesticide use. 

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State Law

The State of Florida has two laws dealing with the protection of listed wildlife species:

  1. The Florida Endangered and Threatened Species Act of 1977
  2. Endangered Species Protection Act

The Florida Endangered and Threatened Species Act of 1977 includes no specific prohibitions or penalties, but does establish the conservation and wise management of endangered and threatened species as State policy.

The Endangered Species Protection Act prohibits the intentional wounding or killing of any fish or wildlife species designated by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission as "endangered", "threatened" or of "special concern".  This prohibition also extends to the intentional destruction of the nests of any such species. 

The protection of endangered, threatened, or "commercially exploited" plants is addressed in the Preservation of Native Flora of Florida Act.  This act includes several prohibitions covering the "willful destroying or harvesting" of such plants, but also contains an exemption for agricultural and silvicultural uses. 

In 1994, a cooperative program was initiated between the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect Federally listed threatened and endangered species from harm by pesticides with minimum disruption to forestry, agriculture, and other interests.  Compliance by pesticide users with Florida's Endangered Species Protection Program will become mandatory when EPA fully implements their program through pesticide limitation statements on certain pesticide product labels which will reference "County Bulletins".

The "cornerstone" of the initial phase of the Florida pilot program is the development of three County Bulletins describing the safe use of pesticides in Florida Torreya habitat. Bulletins are currently available for Jackson, Gadsen, and Liberty Counties. Landowner agreements and memoranda of agreement between agencies will also be utilized through this program to protect listed species. 

Red Cockaded Woodpecker - See about the Statewide Safe Harbor Agreement for the Red Cockaded Woodpecker above.

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Local Ordinances & Contacts

Several county and city Comprehensive Plans include policies providing protection for threatened and endangered species.  These policies either apply largely to development activities, or include existing forestry operations.  Landowners and land managers need to keep updated on any such policies.

Click on the links below for contacts:

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