By Craig Pittman
The federal government just fired a warning shot at a Florida county, saying that its recent land-use decisions benefiting a landowner "may have violated" the Endangered Species Act.
The warning is aimed at protecting Florida panthers and red-cockaded woodpeckers, two species on the endangered list that have been found on 1,100 acres near Naples called the HHH Ranch.
The warning, issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noted that the owners of the ranch have been allowed by Collier County to clear land, cut timber, extend a road and push ahead with plans for a rock mine.
"The activities the county has approved … could result in the take of federally protected species, and the county could be liable for violating federal law," says the Aug. 15 letter from Larry Williams of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Williams acknowledged in an email to the Times that it's unusual for the wildlife service to jump on a local government for its land-use votes.
"These letters are very rare," wrote Williams, field supervisor of the agency's office in Vero Beach. He said he took that step after "we were alerted by our own agency staff and by community organizations" about HHH Ranch and its owners, Dr. Francis Hussey and his wife, Mary Pat.
The Husseys' attorney, John Vega, called Williams' letter "a scare tactic" based on one-sided information. He said the Husseys, major landowners in Collier County and in New York, have repeatedly consulted with biologists on how to avoid harming panthers or woodpeckers. More....