You could say Florida Fish and Wildlife biologist Justin Davis is a shepherd, but unlike sheep, the animal he's tending is much harder to see.
The Panama City Crayfish is not only unique to Bay County, they are hard to find during the drier summer months. They burrow in the ground until the more frequent winter and spring rains.
"It's a very challenging species to deal with because it's only found in these unique little habitat areas," Davis said. "With continued development and road development and widenings and things like that, we're going to continue to have habitat loss."
Years of development has destroyed the crayfish's home, which is wet flatwoods. Most are now found in ditches in Panama City and Lynn Haven. That has biologists recommending the crayfish be upgraded to a state threatened species.
Davis is working with organizations like the Bay County Conservancy to restore some property to the natural prairie, giving the species an ideal habitat. Florida Fish and Wildlife currently manages five of these pieces of land in the county.
Davis said upgrading the species' status will give them the tools needed to protect and conserve more areas for the Crayfish.
"These small postage stamp type areas, while they will support some level of population, it's probably not enough for the species as a whole," Davis said. "The idea is larger more intact pieces of property that we can set aside and work with other landowners to manage for this critter."
Biologists invite the public to attend a Thursday, July 28 meeting where they will present draft conservation and permitting guidelines for the animal.
The final draft of the plan is scheduled to be presented to commissioners at their meeting on November 16th and 17th.
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