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    Agency moves to reduce woodpecker's protection

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 24, 2002

    Despite criticism from scientists and environmental groups, members of the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted Wednesday to approve the next step in downgrading the ranking of the red-cockaded woodpecker on Florida's endangered species list.

    Although the woodpecker has been on the federal endangered species list for 30 years, the state has always listed it as threatened. Now the commission has approved a staff report that says it does not even deserve to be called threatened. Instead, the report says it should be classified at the lowest level: a species of special concern.

    State wildlife officials will now write a management plan for the bird. That could be voted on as early as November, according to agency spokesman Henry Cabbage. If it passes, the bird's status will officially change.

    Critics of the state's move, including the Florida Ornithological Society and experts from Florida State University and Archbold Biological Station, warn that it may doom the woodpecker to extinction. They say animals listed high on the state's endangered list tend to be first in line for state funding for buying environmentally sensitive land and conducting scientific research.

    State wildlife officials disagree. They say what counts is what is in the management plan, not where the species ranks on a list.

    In other action, the commission gave conceptual approval to a ban on feeding wild bears, raccoons, sandhill cranes and foxes. Florida already prohibits feeding alligators and key deer. Final action is expected in April.

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