Court Invalidates Florida’s Attempt to Bypass the Endangered Species Act

Credits: National League of Cities

A federal court ruling has been hailed as a victory for wildlife advocacy, as it restores important protections provided by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ruling found that under the Trump administration, federal agencies unlawfully allowed Florida’s government to take over wetlands permitting, circumventing the ESA.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia determined that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had bypassed the ESA by approving Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ plan to expedite construction permits for projects on wetlands.

This decision comes after environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and Miami Waterkeeper, sued the EPA over the transfer of wetlands permitting authority to Florida in 2020.

US Law Court (Credits: The Courier-Journal)

The court’s ruling focuses on the EPA’s violation of federal endangered species protections rather than just issuing a preliminary injunction. This decision is particularly significant for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, where an estimated 120-230 endangered panthers are said to remain in their last territory on Earth.

Earthjustice, representing CBD and the Sierra Club, had requested a preliminary injunction to halt Florida from issuing state permits for development projects near the refuge.

The FWS had found that these projects would likely lead to the death or harm of several panthers each year due to habitat loss and increased vulnerability to car collisions.

According to Earthjustice attorney Bonnie Malloy, restoring ESA protections will ensure that these projects undergo the necessary analysis and review to protect threatened and endangered species.

Elise Bennett, Florida and Caribbean director at CBD described the ruling as a reprieve for critically endangered species like the Florida panther. However, she emphasized the need to halt the destruction of wildlife habitats to prevent further species extinction.

Florida Phoenix columnist Craig Pittman noted the significance of the ruling for Florida’s wetlands, particularly regarding the Department of Environmental Protection’s approval process for development projects.

Elizabeth Fleming, senior Florida representative at Defenders of Wildlife, highlighted the importance of wetlands as vital habitats for the Florida panther and other rare species, underscoring the need to protect these ecosystems for wildlife and public well-being.