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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Wildlife service oftentimes does oversight in the dark

The wildlife service reviews thousands of proposals from developers who want to build in endangered species habitat and relays opinions to the Corps on whether the proposals will push the animals closer to extinction. The Corps takes direction from the service but has final say on whether a project can move forward under the federal Endangered Species Act.

In South Florida, the wildlife service's regulatory office, which is in Vero Beach, is responsible for 26,000 square miles of land in 19 counties -- an area slightly larger than West Virginia.

Three years ago, the service averaged about 3,500 reviews a year with a staff of 110, according to the service's Web site. Last year 4,900 requests for review landed on the office's doorstep and staff is now at about 80, said Paul Souza, acting supervisor for the Vero Beach office.

"We've done more of this type of regulatory oversight in recent years than this office ever has," Souza said. Meanwhile, the service has closed regulatory offices in Fort Myers and Naples.

Souza said his office is doing an adequate job protecting endangered animals from encroaching development, even as the workload nearly doubles. Coping mechanisms include reliance on habitat maps, computerized databases, county endangered species protection plans and information from developers.

The Desoto Sun-Herald

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