Species conservation and recovery through cooperation and partnerships in Florida
Federal agencies have the ultimate legal responsibility for listed species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. However, state natural resource management agencies can be vital partners for managing the conservation and recovery of listed species. In Florida, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission works in close partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to promote species recovery. By establishing state-based funding and specific state laws related to federally listed species, the state has become an indispensable partner in recovery. Dedicated funding at the state level increases the capacity to create and maintain long-term research and management programs, and state statutory authorities provide regulatory tools that are specific, targeted, and more flexible than the provisions of the ESA.
Mutual trust and active communication are key elements of the successful partnerships between Florida, FWS, and NMFS. Building trust among leaders and staff members has been essential to balancing work efforts and making progress toward recovery. Annual coordination meetings of state and federal endangered species staff, regularly scheduled coordination calls of agency leadership, multi-agency responses in the field, and joint press releases are examples of the culture that has developed under this relationship. Recent revisions to the Section 6 Cooperative Agreement between Florida and FWS also have the potential to increase state involvement and authority. This agreement, once finalized, will establish specific permitting guidelines that will allow Florida to issue incidental take permits for federally listed species. Proactive conservation efforts in Florida, which can lessen or eliminate the need to list species under the ESA, may also provide a model for other state wildlife management agencies. For example, Florida has its own imperiled species system to evaluate and list species as “State Threatened” if warranted, and the state is currently finalizing a management plan that will include 60 state listed species. The conservation measures in this plan aim to improve the status of these species and make federal listing unnecessary.