De-listing Key deer is not a done deal. The public must make itself heard | Opinion

Florida Key deer have been under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, but they might be removed from the list.
Florida Key deer have been under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, but they might be removed from the list. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region

The Florida Key deer is an iconic species beloved both by Floridians and the thousands of visitors who flock to see them every year. This diminutive sub-species of white-tailed deer is found only in the Florida Keys. While it was once found throughout all the Keys, about 75 percent of the entire population now inhabits just two islands, Big Pine and No Name keys.

Historically, hunting greatly reduced this species; development, loss of habitat and mortality from cars have threatened their long-term survival. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wisely listed the Key deer as a federally endangered species in 1973. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), along with local government and residents, has worked with our federal partners for decades to conserve and protect this cherished and uniquely Florida deer. We are proud that these efforts have resulted in population growth and even range expansion to several smaller islands in the middle Keys.

In 2017, the Service prepared a Species Status Assessment of the Key deer that provides a thorough assessment of biology, natural history, risks, stressors and limiting factors for the Key deer. This science document is intended to inform policy makers regarding the Key deer’s status and future risk of extinction. The FWC provided input, data and review of this assessment. We support the Service’s commitment to use the best available science to help inform its regulatory decisions. We also commend the USFWS for scheduling a public meeting starting at 6 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Marathon Key Government Center, in the Emergency Operations Center Room, 2798 Overseas Highway. It will provide a forum where the science compiled in the Species Status Assessment can be explained, discussed, questioned and, most important, so public comment can be gathered.

Some recent media reports suggest that the Service has made the decision to remove the Key deer from the Endangered Species list. We have reached out to Service leadership and we are assured that a final agency decision has not been made. We encourage the Service to take the time needed, including holding additional public meetings, if necessary, to thoroughly discuss this important topic with citizens.

While we recognize that using the best available science and most current population modeling techniques is essential, we are also keenly aware that conservation of the Key deer has long been a collaborative enterprise that has required the support of Floridians and especially residents of the Keys. It is only fitting that the public have ample opportunity to provide input for future policy decisions. As the state agency with responsibility to manage all of Florida’s wildlife resources, we are committed to working closely with the Service as they evaluate the status of the Key deer and we pledge continued support to ensure the long-term survival of this unique Florida treasure.

Rodney Barreto serves on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.