State wildlife conservation plan ‘delists’ some Florida Keys species

Tricolor herons will be moved to a threatened classification in the state’s newly approved Imperiled Species Management Plan.
Tricolor herons will be moved to a threatened classification in the state’s newly approved Imperiled Species Management Plan. FWC

Florida Keys species account for more than half the 15 animals and fish being delisted from the state’s newly approved Imperiled Species Management Plan.

Local bird species affected are the brown pelican, snowy egret and white ibis, which are considered to have population numbers “such that the species does not need to be listed,” the plan says. All three species are protected from harvest under federal migratory-bird laws.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, meeting Thursday in St. Petersburg, approved the Imperiled Species plan after years of staff research and biological revision. Overall, about two dozen of the 57 species on the state “imperiled” list are native to the Keys.

All 15 delisted species, with eight from the Keys, “have active management plans with conservation measures still in place to make sure they are thriving,” said Carli Segelson, FWC information coordinator. “These species actually are conservation success stories, so that’s great news,” Segelson said.

Also tagged as delisted are the Lower Keys population of the peninsula ribbon snake and the Lower Keys striped mud turtle, which reportedly have reached sustainable populations. Biologists concluded the Lower Keys red rat snake is not significantly different from mainland rat snakes.

However, the state will ban the harvest of the three delisted Keys reptiles to ensure they remain “part of the wildlife diversity in the Lower Keys.”

The plan also changes the status of the mangrove rivulus (a small prey fish) and the Florida tree snail due to adequate populations.

Several other South Florida and Keys species — like the burrowing owl, little blue heron and Florida Keys mole skink — will receive upgraded state protection as officially “threatened” species.

Many of the Keys species previously were classified as “species of special concern,” a temporary status indicating that not enough was known about their populations to determine whether populations are sustainable. Most of those that were considered “of special concern” have now been listed as “threatened.”

The one notable remaining “special concern” bird is the osprey population of Monroe County. The southernmost ospreys could be “a potentially distinct subpopulation, though this has not yet been scientifically verified,” the report says.

Among the potential threats to the osprey are habitat loss and loss of prey fish. “For example, prey may be limited in portions of Florida Bay due to hypersalinity from lowered freshwater inflow,” the Keys osprey recovery plan says.

Keys birds like the reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, southeastern American kestrel, tricolored heron and white crowned pigeon are in the management plan as threatened.

In general, animals already covered by the federal Endangered Species Act were not included in Florida’s Imperiled Species Management Plan.

“Our charismatic species get a lot of attention, but the animals covered by this Imperiled Species Management Plan need attention, too,” FWC Commissioner Chuck Roberts said. “All of these species are very important to long-term resource management here in Florida.”