TALLAHASSEE — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wants the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to step in to protect Key deer, now that the federal government may remove the iconic creatures from the endangered species list. Rubio sent a letter Thursday to FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton, urging state protection of the Key deer population and its habitat, “regardless of the species’ future federally protected status.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a national workplan to downlist and delist species, including delisting of the Key deer, a small subspecies of the North American whitetail deer. Rubio expressed concern about the survival of the Key deer, as well as their “value to the region’s tourism-driven and environmentally-conscious” economy.

Federal protections under the Endangered Species Act “have proven essential to the recovery of iconic species in Florida, such as the American alligator and bald eagle, and have staved off the extinction of many others, including the Florida manatee, Florida panther, and American crocodile,” Rubio noted. But the state also “has a significant responsibility and moral imperative to ensure that our endemic flora and fauna are conserved for future generations,” Rubio wrote.

The Florida senator suggested that the Key deer be included in Florida’s imperiled species management plan. “We must not rely solely on federal protections when direct state-level action can secure state and local conservation goals,” Rubio wrote.

A release from Rubio’s office noted he will work to ensure any federal action is “grounded in the best available science and is in compliance with federal law.”

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