Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No More Rainbows or Fairies

Two species will no longer be found in Florida, the South Florida rainbow snake and the Florida fairy shrimp were declared extinct by Federal wildlife officials in October. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also declared eight freshwater species as threatened or endangered and agency plans continuing their protection efforts by surveying 374 freshwater species across the southeast, 114 of those native to Florida, to evaluate the need for protection.

Florida houses a multitude endangered and threatened species, included but not limited to: sea turtles, manatees, humpback whales, Florida panthers, gopher tortoises, and beach mice. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes that this survey will assist the agency in making a determination as to what further actions must be made to protect threatened and endangered species in Florida.

While some endangered animals, such as the manatee, draw a significant amount of media attention, many environmentalists voice concern for animals that may not have as much publicity. This seems to be the plight of the South Florida rainbow snake and the fairy shrimp. The rainbow snake has not been spotted since 1952, and fairy shrimp were most recently spotted ten years ago. While the rainbow snake and the fairy shrimp may not make great posters or photo opportunities, both were key to ecosystems, and these ecosystems will have to adapt without their presence. The public should not limit preservation to the most popular creatures, but rather should focus their efforts on all the creatures necessary to maintain delicate ecosystems. When a piece of an ecosystem is gone, then the whole ecosystem can be thrown off balance, and many others creatures may die as a result.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the Center for Biological Diversity will finalize the list by 2018, but this action will come much too late for the South Florida rainbow snake and the fairy shrimp. A place on the list requires consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to development of a habitat for one of species on the list. The developer then creates a habitat conservation plan protecting the species. Recent developers endanger the habitats of many species unique to Florida through rapid expansion. Developers are not the only threat to species in Florida, the loss can also be due to overhunting, pesticides, vehicle collisions, or even weather conditions and viral infections. Some species have become so fragile that a hurricane or viral infection can cause their extinction. However, some Floridians fear federal involvement will decrease statewide unilateral protection for the species. State legislation has been successful for the gopher tortoise, who if found, must be relocated prior to construction.

Protecting wildlife must be a multi-tiered effort. While the public should support the efforts of state and federal agencies to protect wildlife, it is also important to remember conservation begins at home. Therefore, being of how you rid your home of gasoline, pesticides, and paint thinner, can all be important steps in decreasing the impact that humans have on Florida wildlife. For a list of endangered and threatened species in Florida you can visit: or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Database.

-Sloane Tait, Legal Intern