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POLICY STATEMENT ISSUED ON FLORIDA PANTHER CAPTIVE BREEDING PROGRAM

POLICY STATEMENT ISSUED ON FLORIDA PANTHER CAPTIVE BREEDING PROGRAM
 ATLANTA, Feb. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has issued a policy statement addressing the continued environmental review of the Florida panther captive breeding program.
 The document states the intention of the Service to initiate the establishment of a captive breeding population of endangered Florida panthers, as outlined in the November 1991 Environmental Assessment, in the near future. It identifies the process for peer and public review of panther recovery activities, such as captive breeding, genetic management, habitat protection and reintroductions. The policy also establishes dates by which a draft habitat preservation plan for the existing wild population of panthers in south Florida and a draft preliminary analysis of potential reintroduction sites in Florida and other southeastern states will be completed and released for peer and public review and input.
 The Service's Southeast Regional Director James W. Pulliam Jr. said of the policy statement: "It is a means of making clear to all those interested in Florida panther recovery our ongoing commitment to scientific peer review of all significant actions on behalf of the panther and our desire for public input into the decision-making process. In the final analysis, strong public support will be the key to Florida panther recovery and reintroduction. The actions outlined in the policy statement are a means to that end."
 Pulliam is also chairman of the Florida Panther Interagency Committee, which coordinates the panther recovery activities of the Service, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, the National Park Service, and the Florida Department of Natural Resources.
 A copy of the policy statement (following) has been submitted for publication in the Federal Register.
 Florida Panther Captive Breeding Program
 Statement of Policy on Continued Environmental Review
 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will soon initiate the establishment of a captive breeding population of endangered Florida panthers, as presented in the November 1991 Supplemental Environmental Assessment (Federal Register, Volume 56, Number 228, page 59958, November 26, 1991). Endangered species permits (Section 10(a)(1)(A)) will be secured by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (Commission), White Oak Plantation, Lowry Park Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, and Miami Metro Zoo before additional captures of panthers or any captive breeding activity occurs.
 The Service will continue recovery activities in accordance with the approved Florida Panther Recovery Plan, June 22, 1987, Florida Panther Viability Analysis and Species Survival Plan, December 15, 1989, and other relevant documents. These recovery activities are carried out primarily by the Commission, Florida Department of Natural Resources, Southeast Region of the National Park Service (NPS), and the Service's Southeast Region.
 The heads of the above agencies are collectively known as the Florida Panther Interagency Committee (FPIC). The FPIC usually meets at least two times a year to coordinate cooperative efforts to restore the panther to a nonendangered status in the wild. The FPIC is supported by a Technical Committee of biologists representing the four agencies which meets more frequently than the FPIC. All meetings of the FPIC and its Technical Committee are announced to the public in advance and are open to public participation in accordance with the government in the sunshine laws of the State of Florida.
 The Service will continue to carry out peer review of various panther recovery activities (e.g. captive breeding, genetic management, habitat protection, reintroductions) through the Florida Panther Technical Advisory Council (Council) established by Florida law on June 22, 1983, as supplemented by this policy. The Council, which was organized by the State of Florida as a component of the Commission, consists of five members (appointed by the Governor) with technical knowledge and expertise in research and management of large mammals. As provided for by State law, the Council's membership includes: (a) two members representing State or Federal agencies responsible for management of endangered species; (2) two members having specific experience in research and management of large felines or large mammals from universities or associated institutions; and (3) one member, with similar expertise, from the public at large. Members are appointed on staggered 4-year terms. The current members of the Council are Dr. James N. Layne, Archbold Biological Station, Mr. John O. Pons, Florida Department of Natural Resources (Chair), and Dr. Melvin E. Sunquist, University of Florida. There are currently two vacancies on the Council, which the State intends to fill in the near future. Under Florida law, the purpose of the Council is to: (1) serve in an advisory capacity on technical matters related to the panther recovery program and to recommend specific actions that should be taken; (2) review and comment on research and management programs to identify potential harm to the panther population; and (3) provide a forum for technical review and discussion of the status and development of the recovery program.
 The Service will request that the Council review such topics as habitat protection plans, reintroduction sites or evaluation methods, removal of adults from the wild except in emergency situations, effects of removal of adults and/or kittens from the wild, and the protocol under which panthers will be maintained in captivity in order to maximize the chances of success of the captive breeding effort. The Council is provided access to all relevant scientific documents and data within the custody of the Service, including all documents within the administrative record. Privileged matter, including documents protected by the deliberative process, attorney-client and attorney work product privileges, may, at the option of the Service, be excluded from the Council's review. All matters reviewed by the Council and responses provided by the Council are available to the public through existing public notice procedures within the State of Florida. The Service will also make all documents pertaining to the peer review effort, including the reports and comments of the Council members, available to the public. After the Council has completed the peer review process for any of the activities covered by this policy statement, the Service will notify the public, through notice published in the Federal Register, that such review has taken place and that all documents involved in such review are available for public inspection.
 Each member of the Council will determine how the product of his or her review should be presented to the Service and the public. Peer review reports need not be presented as consensus advice.
 The Service will consider all recommendations of the Council. (In addition, the Service considers all recommendations presented by outside experts, expert panels, and the public.) The Service will coordinate in good faith with the Council to submit issues for evaluation on a timely basis. The Service will give due consideration to the advice/recommendations derived from the peer review process. If the Service chooses to take an action that differs significantly from that advised or recommended through the peer review process, the Service will advise the Council in writing of its reasons for taking such action. Such written statement(s) will be made part of the administrative record and will be available to the public.
 Additional peer review of various recovery activities has been and will continue to be obtained by the FPIC and its Technical Committee by inviting various renowned scientific experts to participate in its deliberative meetings. Workshops have already been held on such topics as population viability analysis, species survival planning, mercury contamination effects, and genetic management.
 In addition to the peer review process, the two Federal agencies (NPS and the Service) involved in panther recovery activities utilize the systematic, interdisciplinary planning process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended, for major actions which are likely to have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment. For example, the Service has prepared environmental assessments for establishment of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and establishment of a captive breeding population. The NPS has prepared an environmental impact statement for the General Management Plan for Big Cypress National Preserve and an environmental assessment on the Fire Management Plan for the Everglades National Park. Future Federal actions will also utilize this systematic, interdisciplinary NEPA process. Examples include, but are not limited to, implementation of future habitat protection actions, selection of future new reintroduction sites, etc. In addition, the Commission has held public meetings and distributed informational packets to key contacts and the media for its experimental reintroduction program.
 By December 1992, the FPIC will prepare and release, for public review and input, a draft habitat preservation plan for the existing wild population in south Florida. The draft plan will address lands considered essential for sustaining a viable population and the steps that the FPIC could take or could recommend others to take to help ensure the preservation and/or restoration of such habitat. The Council will be provided copies of the draft and will have access to the administrative record from which it was derived. All reports and recommendations received from the Council or its members within 60 days after receiving the draft will be addressed by the Service (through the FPIC) in the preparation of the final plan. The target date for the final plan is May 30, 1993.
 Any proposal to remove an adult Florida panther from the wild for captive breeding purposes will be referred to the Council for peer review, unless: (1) the panther has not reproduced in the wild over at least a 2-year time span due to known or suspected physiological problems and the Service does not believe that it will reproduce in the wild in the future; (2) the panther will contribute essential genetic material to the captive population; and, (3) removal of the panther will not likely have a significant adverse impact on the social structure of the wild population. If the above criteria are not met, the Service will provide 30 days' advance notice to the Council of its proposal to remove an adult panther from the wild for captive breeding purposes, unless an emergency exists that poses serious and immediate harm to the panther. The Service will address all reports and recommendations received from the Council and its members within this 30-day period. If the Council's peer review indicates disagreement with the need for removal of an adult, the Service will provide a written statement of reasons for carrying out the action that fully responds to the Council report. The public will promptly be notified (by press release) of any decision to remove an adult panther that does not satisfy the criteria set forth above, as well as the reasons for the removal decision.
 Within 18 months from the date of this policy statement, the Service will prepare and release, for public review and input (within the context of NEPA scoping), a draft preliminary analysis of potential reintroduction sites, in both Florida and other southeastern states, based on the information that is then available. The analysis will describe and rank potential reintroduction sites, discussing both their advantages and disadvantages insofar as the potential for panther survival, conservation, and recovery is concerned. With respect to the top three priority sites, the analysis will specifically discuss what steps will be proposed, on both a short- and long-term basis, to ensure that such sites are suitable for panther reintroduction. The analysis will also describe the actual and potential uses of such sites that are compatible with panther reintroduction, as well as the steps that will be proposed to eliminate or mitigate incompatible uses.
 The Council will be provided copies of the draft preliminary analysis of potential reintroduction sites and will have access to the administrative record from which it was derived. All reports and recommendations received from the Council or its members within 60 days after receiving the draft will be addressed by the FPIC in the preparation of the final preliminary analysis of potential reintroduction sites, which will be issued no later than 2 years from the issuance of this policy statement.
 The Council may request the opportunity for peer review of other biological issues pertaining to the recovery of the Florida panther. Such requests can be made in writing by any member of the Council and addressed to the Service's regional director in Atlanta. If the Service determines that it would further the purpose of Florida panther conservation to devote resources to the Council's request, peer review will be initiated, and the results of such review shall be addressed by the Service consistent with the process outlined above for other issues. If the Service declines to allow the Council to peer review any major issue pertaining to the recovery of the Florida panther, it will explain its reasons for that decision in writing and make its written explanation available to the Council. A brief notice will be published in the Federal Register to announce any Service decision not to allow peer review of a particular activity and to explain that the records supporting that decision are available for public inspection.
 In 1994, the Service will cosponsor, with other interested organizations and agencies, a national conference on Florida panther conservation and recovery.
 In order to respond prudently to new scientific information regarding the Florida panther's biological status and recovery needs, the Service reserves the authority to make changes in the peer review process described in this statement of policy. The Council and each interested governmental and non-governmental organization involved in the Florida panther recovery effort would be notified in writing of any changes in this policy and the reasons therefore. The Service will carry out a biennial review of the peer review process to determine its effectiveness and the need for any improvements or modifications. If, pursuant to State law, the Council ceases to exist during the time that panther recovery efforts are ongoing, the Service will utilize or establish a recovery team for peer review that will perform the functions set forth in this policy statement.
 Implementation of this policy is contigent on the availability of annual appropriated funds for the participating State and Federal agencies. The Service will make reasonable efforts to obtain the resources needed to implement this statement of policy.
 -0- 2/7/92
 /CONTACT: Vicki M. Boatwright of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 404-331-3594/ CO: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ST: Florida IN: SU: EXE


BN-TG -- AT001 -- 8038 02/07/92 07:52 EST
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