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Growing human population rivals endangered key deer
BIG PINE KEY, Florida (CNN) -- A growing human population in the Florida Keys may threaten the area's endangered key deer.
About 800 of the deer, found only in the Florida Keys, now occupy the Big Pine and No Name Keys thanks to conservation efforts. But with evidence of a rising deer population, officials are being pressured to lift a moratorium on building development. In the 1940s, there were less than 50 key deer.
"We're hoping to take the needs of the deer, as well as the needs of the people, and combine those two to try to find some sort of compromise," said key deer researcher Roel Lopez.
For years, key deer have been the focus of an emotional argument between residents, developers and environmentalists. The central issue -- balancing the needs of a growing human population with those of an endangered species.
In the last 30 years, Big Pine's human population has climbed from 500 to 5,000 residents. Increased traffic has taken its toll on the key deer.
To understand the effects of urbanization, Lopez has fitted more than 200 animals with collars and radio transmitters. Using a receiver in a pick-up truck, Lopez tracks and records their movements.
Based on preliminary results, it appears that limited construction won't harm the deer, as long as it's in already developed areas.
"It would be desirable to not continue to lose habitat in the good part of Big Pine Key, and to try to focus the development on more subdivided, already degraded areas," said Phil Frank, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But some environmentalists argue that it's too early to draw such conclusions.
"I believe it is in the national interest for us to protect the natural resources, the final remaining vestiges of this unique place, for all of America," said Debra Harrison, of the World Wildlife Fund.
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Key Deer Research Project
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