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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Wildlife Groups Lose Suit Over Florida Panther

FORT MYERS, Fla. (CN) - A federal judge rejected a lawsuit that would force the government to set up a protected habitat for the endangered Florida panther.

The Florida panther was designated as an endangered species in 1967, but the cougar subspecies was never given a critical habitat, which the secretary of the Department of the Interior can designate to ensure a species' conservation.

In 2009, a group of environmental organizations filed three separate petitions that asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate a critical habitat for the Florida panther.

The agency denied the petitions in February 2010, noting that a "Florida Panther Protection Program" was in the works.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees or Environmental Responsibility and Council of Civil Association Inc. challenged this denial in June 2010 with a "shotgun four-count amended complaint alleging that the Service's denials of plaintiff's several petitions to designate critical habitat for the Florida panther violated the ESA [Endangered Species Act] and APA. [Administrative Procedures Act]," according to the ruling.

In a footnote of the opinion, U.S. District Judge John Steele explains that the complaint was a "shotgun" because the "plaintiffs have improperly incorporated all allegations of each count in every successive count."

The government moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming that the court and the plaintiffs lacked jurisdiction. It also argued, in the alternative, that the complaint failed to state a claim under the ESA and APA.

Steele found that jurisdiction challenge was off-base, but agreed that the government did not violate the ESA or APA in denying the habitat petitions.

In 1978, the Endangered Species Act was amended to require critical habitat for endangered species, but it did not apply to animals that were on the list prior to the amendment.

"The statute allows the secretary to declare critical habitat for such endangered species, but does not require it," Steele wrote.

He added that the government did not violate APA since it promptly considered the groups' petition and notified them of their decision.

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