Florida Wildlife Officials Release Plan to Conserve 16 Species

Among the 16 imperiled species are burrowing owls, sandhill cranes, and fox squirrels.

Florida's wildlife officials released action plans Friday to conserve 16 imperiled specials including the Florida burrowing owl, Florida sandhill crane and Big Cypress and Sherman's fox squirrels

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is looking for public input to help create plans to ultimately help 60 species, but the first batch of plans was released Friday.

Other species included in the plans released Friday were the brown pelican, gopher frog, Florida pine snake, Florida mouse, Sherman's short-tailed shrew, short-tailed snake, Florida bog frog, Georgia blind salamander, Atlantic sturgeon and mangrove rivulus.

The plans are the first step in identifying threats to these species. Next, the commission will develop conservation strategies regarding wildlife management, habitat conservation and research, according to a statement from the agency.

The final goal is to create an Imperiled Species Management Plan, which wildlife officials will use to work with the public and partners to ensure all 60 species are conserved as part of Florida's wildlife legacy. The agency said it is slated to approve the plan in 2015.

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Wildlife officials project the population of the Florida burrowing owl to decline and noted its historic prairie habitat has been replaced by farms, airports and golf courses. The principal range of the Florida burrowing owl is peninsular Florida, but it can be found in isolated pairs and colonies as far west as Eglin Air Force Base and as far south as Key West.

Wildlife officials are seeking to increase the Florida sandhill crane population by maintaining shallow wetlands for roosting and nesting and open habitats for foraging. The cranes, which can stretch to nearly 4 feet tall, are particularly at risk because of their low annual reproductive rate. The species is a candidate for federal listing, but Florida wildlife officials' said their proposed conservation actions may preclude the need for that.

Other plans for the Florida sandhill crane include using traffic-calming measures to prevent vehicle collisions with cranes, which often forage along roadways.

The Big Cypress fox squirrel is losing more and more of its habitat to increased urbanization. Biologists are gathering genetic information about the Big Cypress and Sherman's species of fox squirrels. Wildlife officials said they received significant information about their locations from the public a few years ago.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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