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SIERRA CLUB "Oil Drilling Threatens Panthers"

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Published on Apr 1, 2014

ALEXIS MEYER of the Sierra Club, speaks at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee meeting at the Collier County Commission Chambers (March 31, 2014)

"I am the representative for the national Sierra Club's Florida Panther Critical Habitat Campaign. This campaign focuses entirely on how to better protect Florida panthers and their habitat, and while I share the numerous concerns regarding water quality and human safety, I will be speaking solely in regards to Florida panthers.

The exploratory well in Golden Gate Estates would set a precedent to open drilling in southwest Florida. The Dan A Hughes Company has leased 115,000 acres from Collier Resources - an egregious amount of land that has the potential to be turned into oil fields. We do not want Florida to be carved up for exploratory wells. We host some of the most unique ecosystems and imperiled species on the planet, and oil and gas drilling will undoubtedly threaten what makes Florida irreplaceable.

The loss of any panther primary habitat, which comprises the well site, is damaging to the species continued survival. The well is located less than one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, land specifically set aside for conservation, and planned for expansion, as well as Picayune Strand and the Fakahatchee State Forest. These areas make up the western Everglades and panther habitat.

Knowing that 115,000 acres have been leased to the Dan A. Hughes Company for oil drilling concludes that some sort of cumulative effects analysis needs to be conducted. No single project has the potential to wipe out the species, but "death by a thousand cuts" is increasingly threatening the future of the Florida panther. I want to know if in your consideration of this permit, you looked at the sittings of the total 115,000 acres. Our environmentally sensitive lands cannot and should not be filled with drilling wells.

The EPA's biological assessment concluded "there will not be any effect that is likely to kill or injure [wildlife], significantly modify or degrade [the] species' breeding, feeding or sheltering habitats, or impair other essential behavioral patterns during reproduction, foraging, hiding or resting."

I would like to know what merit these statements were concluded on, as there has been no studies conducted analyzing the impacts on wildlife behavior and life history from oil drilling. Increased traffic in an area where panthers are found increases the likelihood that panthers could be hit by cars -- the number one killer of the species. Behavioral studies on panthers are few and far between, so making statements that drilling will not impact behavioral patterns has not been verified.

Saying that "panthers and oil wells can coexist" is unacceptable without peer-reviewed studies to support the claim.

Telemetry data clearly identifies a tremendous amount of panther activity in the area, including den sites and telemetry points on top of the proposed well site (see attached map). Previous statements by the Dan A Hughes Company, that no panthers have been found on the property is a blatant lie.

I implore you to demand a Section 7 Consultation with a Biological Opinion from FWS. As a former federal endangered species biologist, working in Section 7's, I cannot understand how any permits can be allowed without an Endangered Species Act review.

Given the knowledge of cumulative impact, increased traffic, and destruction of primary panther habitat, I do not see how a "take" (harm, harass, kill, etc.) for the species can be avoided. No reasonable and prudent measures, the actions believed necessary or a appropriate to minimize impacts, and mandated by the ESA, have been proposed. This permit cannot be approved without the proper scientific review of a biological opinion under the ESA.

As of this morning, the Sierra Club alone has gathered over 100,000 signatures in a petition against this well. The people of Florida do not want this well. It's impacts to the environment and, specifically the Florida panther have not been adequately analyzed. We ask that you deny this permit."

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