Florida

Feds: Key deer refuge will stay even if the deer are removed from ‘endangered’ list

Chris Berg, of the Nature Conservancy, attended the meeting, hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Chris Berg, of the Nature Conservancy, attended the meeting, hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. FLKeysNews.com

As the federal government considers removing the tiny Key deer from the Endangered Species List, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say the Key deer refuge on Big Pine Key will remain despite the outcome.

“There has been no final decision to delist the Key deer and if we propose to do so, you will have an opportunity to participate in the process,” Roxanna Hinzman, field supervisor for the South Florida Ecological Services field office, told a crowd of about 75 at the Marathon Government Center on Thursday night.

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Roxanna Hinzman, left, of the regional field office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, takes a question from Diana Umpierre, of the Sierra Club, on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Marathon. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

And the deer refuge isn’t going anywhere, she said.

“The habitat on the refuge would stay in the refuge,” Hinzman said. “That’s federal property. It’s not going to go away.”

The meeting was about putting out information, she said, and it was not a public hearing, which will likely come at some point. A few times, Hinzman told people that their comments on the possible delisting were more appropriate for a public hearing.

“Why are we here?” she said. “Most importantly, we want to talk about and acknowledge the success of measures put into place to support the recovery of the Key deer.”

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About 75 people attended the Aug. 22, 2019, federal government’s public meeting in Marathon over the possible delisting of Key deer. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

Key deer, the smallest deer in the country, number fewer than 1,000 and most live on Big Pine Key and No Name Key. In 1950, there were about 50 deer in the Keys and the figure grew to 200 in 1970. By 2016, there were about 1,000.

Thursday’s meeting was a quiet affair, despite the popular sentiment from local groups, such as Save Our Key Deer, that the delisting is premature and would hurt the herd.

“This is using a door to development in the future,” an unidentified woman said in a phoned-in comment.

At one pint, Hinzman reminded the crowd this wasn’t a public hearing.

“This is not a vote,” she said, adding that writing the government with an opinion isn’t going to affect the process.

But scientific arguments are welcome.

“One well-reasoned, science-based comment could trigger us to reevaluate the proposed rule,” she said.

The Trump administration announced on Aug. 12 that it had revised the endangered species list regulations. Meanwhile, in a letter dated July 30, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex announced it was reviewing the status of the Key deer.

“The fact these two announcements happened on the same day was purely coincidental,” Hinzman said. “The review of the Key deer status began several years ago and it’s part of our legal responsibility to regularly review the status of endangered species.”

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