By Cammy Clark
The last confirmed sighting of the Florida Keys mole skink, one of the most rare and mysterious of the state’s native species, was in 1993 during an ecological survey by Charles E. Hilsenbeck on naval properties in the Lower Keys.
But despite being out of sight, the critter is not out of mind.
Last week, in a lawsuit settlement with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to determine by 2017 whether the reptile — found only on the islands in Monroe County — should receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
“I would think not being seen for 20 years would meet federal criteria,” said Lindsay Nester, a conservation biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “It met our criteria.”
The Florida Keys mole skink was listed as a state threatened species in 1974, although the designation was changed a few years later to species of special concern.
The state now lists 133 species as endangered or threatened; 72 of them are on the federal list. The FWC is now nearing completion on a project to update the action plans for 60 of the 61 species not on the federal list, including the mole skink.
The skink’s habitat is being squeezed by development and sea-level rise. Nester led the team that worked on the skink’s updated action plan. It should be finalized and published on the FWC website in a couple of months. More....