Aiming to restore federally-listed species, whose long-term viabilities in the Florida Keys are currently threatened by predation from non-native species and human-subsidized populations of native predators, the Fish and Wildlife Service has prepared a draft Integrated Predator Management Plan/Environmental Assessment (“Plan/EA”) (PDF), which it made available for public comment today on its website.  The Service claims that predation by the domestic cat and other exotic non-native species has impacted populations of natives species in the Florida Keys Wildlife Refuges Complex. The Refuges Complex, which includes four separate refuges, provides habitat for more than 30 threatened and endangered species including the Key deer, Lower Keys marsh rabbit, and Key Largo woodrat.  Although the Plan/EA has garnered opposition from animal rights activists, refuge biologists quoted in the The Miami Herald say they are “just trying to even the natural playing field,” where the natural food chain has been upset by real estate development in the Florida Keys and the abandonment of unwanted pets.

The Plan/EA, prepared to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and other federal laws and regulations, evaluates the environmental impacts of three alternative management actions for reducing predation on the listed species: (1) no action; (2) integrated predator management (the proposed action), which includes live trapping of cats and humane euthanizing of other predators; and (3) lethal control only.  Successfully implementing the proposed action, particularly in the National Key Deer Refuge, which includes public lands intermixed with private residential and commercial areas, will require a collaborative public and private effort on adjacent lands by a diversity of land managers and stakeholders, including Monroe County, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, animal control service providers, animal advocacy groups, wildlife rescuers, environmental organizations, private landowners, and responsible pet owners.

The Service has invited public comments on the Plan/EA through February 3, 2011. Written comments may be submitted by email to keydeer@dws.gov, fax to (305) 872-3675, or regular mail to Anne Morkill, Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge, 28950 Watson Blvd., Big Pine Key, Florida 33043.