FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Sierra Club today is calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help the Florida panther survive global warming by protecting its habitat. In a petition filed today, the Sierra Club proposed a critical habitat designation that includes migration corridors and additional land that will help panthers adapt to sea level rise, stronger hurricanes, and other impacts of global warming.
"In many ways, the Florida panther is like the polar bear of the South. Because of its low-lying and exposed habitat, the panther is extremely vulnerable to global warming," said Sierra Club Representative Frank Jackalone. "In order to survive sea level rise and other impacts of climate change, panthers need to be able to migrate to new ground."
Florida panthers were listed as an endangered species in 1967, and at times as few as six Florida panthers have been thought to remain in the region. Today, that number is up to between 90-120 panthers, but unchecked development is whittling away at the limited habitat that remains.
Although the Florida panther is protected under the Endangered Species Act, it is still not protected from the single greatest threat to its survival-loss of habitat. Environmental groups like the Conservancy of Southwest Florida have already called on the Fish and Wildlife Service to take an important first step in designating critical habitat for panthers.
"Of what remains of essential panther habitat, continued threats of fragmentation and development further the plight of the panther and jeopardize its recovery from the brink of extinction," said Conservancy of Southwest Florida representative Andrew McElwaine.
Climate change will intensify threats to the panther’s current habitat, making the need to protect that vital core area from other pressures-like runaway sprawl-even greater. However, protecting only the habitat where panthers currently live will still leave them trapped on islands of protected habitat, much of which is vulnerable to storms and sea level rise brought by global warming.
"In the face of global warming, protecting the places where panthers live right now just isn't enough," Jackalone said. "We need to help the few remaining panthers migrate, adapt, and survive."
The Department of Interior recently made a formal commitment to help wildlife survive global warming by encouraging interagency cooperation and long-term planning for adaptation.
Through its Resilient Habitats program, the Sierra Club is encouraging federal and local efforts to help wildlife adapt to global warming, as well as working to protect the migration corridors that will be necessary for animals like the Florida panther to survive climate change. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/resilienthabitat