Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service official at the center of growing litigation and controversy over failure to protect wildlife in South Florida has been promoted to one of the agency’s top jobs overseeing implementation of the Endangered Species Act, according to an announcement posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group charges that the official has a long record of undermining endangered species safeguards and his elevation signals that the Obama administration will continue subjugating wildlife protection to promoting development.
That official, Paul Souza, is currently the Field Supervisor for the South Florida Ecological Services Office in Vero Beach, Florida. In that position, he is responsible for Service positions affecting a wide range of threatened and endangered species, perhaps most notably, the highly endangered Florida panther. Souza has been tapped to serve as Deputy Assistant Director for Endangered Species in Washington, DC, where he will help set national Endangered Species Act (ESA) policy.
Under Souza, the Fish & Wildlife Service has –
- Signed off on mega-projects and, in some cases, entirely new cities within Florida panther habitat without once finding a likely adverse effect on the vanishing predator. In fact, under Souza the Fish & Wildlife Service has approved thousands of projects without issuing a single “jeopardy” opinion indicating harmful impact on wildlife covered by the ESA;
- Resisted outlining what habitat the panther needs to survive in the wild. This refusal is the subject of a lawsuit brought by PEER and other groups; and
- Skewed monitoring practices to obscure the true state of the panther population.
“This guy never met a development project he did not like. He has been a litigation magnet in that the only way to get the Endangered Species Act enforced in South Florida is to sue,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting Souza’s most recent approval of off-road vehicle trails through 40,000 acres of panther country in roadless Big Cypress National Preserve will spawn yet another lawsuit. “Promoting Paul Souza to a top endangered species job is like putting Barney Fife in charge of a SWAT team.”
Documents obtained by the Florida-based Council of Civic Associations indicate that, under Souza, the Service is creating a cap-and-trade plan for development, issuing panther mitigation credits (“Panther Habitat Units”) which could be “banked” from these already protected areas while allowing development in areas that the panthers desperately need for protection. This plan is supported by developers and threatens to encourage additional sprawl spreading across the Western Everglades.
“Fish & Wildlife Service biologists who try to implement the Endangered Species Act have their careers derailed while this guy is rewarded,” Ruch added. “We are concerned that this promotion sends the signal that accommodation matters far more for advancement in federal service than integrity.”
Read the announcement of Souza promotion
Look at Souza track record on endangered Florida panther
View e-mails detailing breakdown of ESA implementation in South Florida
See Souza recent sign-off on ORVs through Big Cypress
Review how ESA has fallen into disuse in Florida
Examine lawsuit to win critical habitat for the Florida panther
Notice Fish & Wildlife pattern of rewarding malfeasance