Finding more room for Florida panthers

Green areas on the map represent the network of already acquired public lands which would surround this monster sized project – the Big Cypress National Preserve to the south; Holeyland and Rotenberger Wildlife Management Areas and Storm Water Treatment Areas 3, 4, 5 and 6 to the east; the Dinner Island Wildlife Management Area and the Okaloacoochee State Forest to the north and west. In addition to direct loss of habitat, a plant of this size would also dramatically increase traffic and open up the entire area to sprawl, road building, and habitat fragmentation.

New land deals in Southern Florida could benefit rare cats if they’re mapped carefully

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Florida panthers could get a bit more room to roam in the southern part of the state with a proposed expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System in the region — but conservation groups says federal land managers are missing a key part of the conservation puzzle.

The proposed Headwaters of the Everglades National Wildlife Refuge would protect 150,000 acres of ranch lands north of Lake Okeechobee at a price tag of 700 million dollars. The patchwork quilt of properties created would include 50,000 acres purchased outright while a conservation easement would be placed on 100,000 additional acres to prevent development.

The plan is aimed at Everglades restoration, but wildlife advocates said that, if the project is planned right, it could be a huge benefit to on the country’s rarest animals.

“We believe there is a better and more strategic way to spend at least some of massive amounts of money the American people are being asked to invest,” said Matt Schwartz, director of the South Florida Wildlands Association.

Schwartz said the Fish and Wildlife Service should be looking at preserving core panther habitat, including a parcel recently sold to a developer interested in building a convential power plant, euphemistically billed as a clean energy center.

Schwartz said the land is of the highest important for the critically endangered Florida panther and numerous other plant and animal species which share its habitat, including wood storks, crested caracara, black bears, wild turkey, eastern indigo snakes and fox squirrels.

Schwartz said his group is willing to fight the proposed power plant project, but suggested that the parcel be made part of the wildlife refuge expansion.

The marriage between state, federal, and private interests which would be accomplished by incorporating Panther Glades (including the newly acquired Florida Power and Light property) into the new Headwaters of the Everglades National Wildlife Refuge could not be better, Schwartz explained via email.

Panther Glades has already been extensively studied for its wildlife and habitat importance.  It is also a key part of the northern watershed of Big Cypress National Preserve which provides fresh, clean water to much of Everglades National Park and other public lands further south.

As of May of this year, Panther Glades was ranked highest in importance of all Florida Forever “Critical Natural Lands Projects” in south Florida.  In the state’s current fiscal conditions, however, Florida Forever has received zero dollars in funding from the Florida legislature.

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9 thoughts on “Finding more room for Florida panthers

  1. Matthew Schwartz and I can’t seem to agree on much but we might be getting close on this project. He is right to question spending the money where USFWS wants to spend it.
    We just aren’t getting much for the $700,000,000 dollars and that is a whopper of a problem.
    Audubon of Florida’s executive director Eric Draper had to admit that the Headwaters Refuge water quality benefits would only be “marginal” when testifying before Congress’s Fish,Wildlife and Oceans cub committee on Nov 3, 2011.
    More problems are exposed on pg 261 of the USFWS’s Land Protection Plan under the Florida Panther heading of the preferred alternative where it explains that the $700,000,000 for Headwaters would only provide enough habitat to benefit for 1 or 2 panthers. This admission based on USFWS’s admission that each cat requires 75,000 acres also exposes another fact
    and that is the entire panther restoration program is a futile effort since there is absolutely not enough land in Florida to properly house the (160+-) cats they have now below Lake Okeechobee much less the 480 they want to house in Florida as a goal in order to de-list them.
    Why heck, just the 160 cats So. of Lake O need 12,000,000 acres equalling a 137 mile square patch of land. A quick analysis on google earth of the land mass So of Lake O shows that there wouldn’t be enough land if one gave the panthers the whole land mass So of Lake O and kicked the humans out.
    Sooner or later someone needs to make an honest decision whether or not to even maintain the program for these hybrid panthers.
    As far as Headwaters goes the answer should be NO Sale.

    1. Frank, I’m not close enough to the situation to understand the complexities of the land-use puzzle completely. I really just wanted to let folks know that the USFWS is planning a huge investment of public money, and that there may be a way to leverage those funds to help both the Everglades and the panther — it seems to me the two go together, and before that money is spent, people who understand the issues should work together to figure out how to make the most of it.

  2. Just for the record – South Florida Wildlands does support the proposed refuge. But given that construction will likely start on the 3,750 Megawatt gas plant FPL is planning in the heart of panther habitat as soon as they have the necessary permits, we believe the folks at FWS need to show some flexibility on the boundaries. A plant of this size in this completely rural location is out of the question if the Florida panther is going to have a chance at long term survival. South Florida will be a very lonely place without our big cats.

  3. Mr Denniger, I believe you take the acreage too literally. The amount of prey available is a more important factor. Everything possible should be done to increase prey species in panther habitat. The reintroduction of prey species that have been extirpated would reinvigorate diversity and restore the balance of flora and fauna. The wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone NP did just that. I would like to know who gets the money.

    1. Mr. Barkley taking acreage into account literally is required since male panthers kill other males and cubs when their territory is encroached upon by males or females due to lack of enough gross acreage being available for the entire population.
      Sadly there will never be enough habitat for the goal of 240 panthers that USFWS has established for the land mass South of Lake Okeechobee in S. Fla. much less North of there.
      I do believe those who think reaching this goal is possible are mistaken and continuing attempts to achieve it could be considered as supporting animal abuse. The analogy would be to cram many of any animal into a small cage and watching them fight it out. I am not an extreme environmentalist but I will never condone government actions to do something like that not to mention the billions of dollars being put into this bottomless pit IMO of futility.

  4. Mr Denninger, there are 25,000 large animals in the Ngoronoro Crater in Africa. It is about 64,000 acres or 100 square miles in area. It has 100 lions and 400 hyenas and 1000 smaller predators, including leopard, cheetah, serval, and jackal. The lions are the largest in all Africa. The male fights to maintain pride of females and to protect his offspring. The celebrated and distinguished conservationist George Schaller, and others, attribute the large number of predators to the large number of prey. And though the puma is more like the leopard in behavior, it is also like the lion in being the top predator. You never addressed my argument but simply restated yours. I’ve provided another example that I hope will consider. Consult the work being done in India with lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, snow leopards, wolves, dholes, and bears among a billion people. The predator-prey ratio is paramount. Finally, money is not being thrown away, because nature conservation is among the very best of causes.

  5. Sorry to have missed addressing the subject you might have desired me to argue but possibly I didn’t state the land size required according to USFWS’s panther range requirements properly. My calculation came up with a 137 mile by 137 mile square piece of land as a reference point (for simplicity’s sake).
    As far as reintroducing prey species goes we hunters in Florida hunt them so other predators must share even though the wild predators don’t understand that concept or sustainable harvest. The prey were always here until the extinct Florida panther was hybridized to increase their numbers beyond the land carrying capacity. Now the sustainability of many of the the prey species is in question
    The current hybridized panther population is devastating all of its prey species(e.g. coons, opossums, feral hogs deer etc.) It has been stated that our panthers eat 1 deer per week and females 50% more when with cubs. With just 160 cats around that equals 8,320 deer sized animals a year taken by panthers. So. of Lake O if that was all they ate. Alligators and Pythons, bobcats and coyotes eat them too. Our habitats cannot sustain that consumption rate indefinitely.
    A once good size feral hog population has been wiped out almost entirely in 582,000 acres of Big Cypress National Preserve over the last 10 years. Small mammals are much less frequently seen – armadillos almost never anymore.
    The fact of the matter to me seems to be that a population of 160 panthers is too much So. of Lake O in Florida. They do have many feral hogs in the area of Headwaters but they are on the invasive species hit list that 9 State agencies are working to wipe them out of Florida possibly due to hogs carrying diseases that kill panthers.
    I would never debate or argue the panther issue in Florida based on comparisons with Africa since there is no comparison IMO – not even close. Everywhere this so called Headwaters good deal is considering buying in to and asserting itself is populated at varying (sometimes high) levels by humans, roads, cars, rural housing developments with children which I wouldn’t want to see be turned into prey.
    One other issue I haven’t mentioned is that many folks in this State will never again support a Federal land grab like this due to past as well as ongoing experiences with our U.S. Dep’t. of Interior’s minions and extreme environmental groups in America.
    Conservation is a worthy cause but money should not be thrown at a lost cause like Headwaters ever. That is what is being done here in Headwaters. Simply put the winners on this project are very well politically connected land owners who have been involved in drumming up the Headwaters long before the general public was notified of the idea. What we are discussing here is a very complicated multifaceted situation that has evolved over many years and anyone entering into the subject should do a lot of studying of Florida land management history over the last 35 years so as to understand how we got where we are at Headwaters.

    1. Mr Denniger, I did not expect you to argue, but to accept the fact that predator-prey ratio is paramount. If you tend to be argumentative, then you must realize that it is a character trait of yours that could be taken as insolence. I should have added that the Masai take their herds of cattle into the fabulous crater, too. The respect for nature is the note you haven’t played. You strum selfish instead. Honesty is the rarest of the character traits in this country of ours. Hunting is managed by hunters in your state, and that is the reason for the ecology problems to which the Fed Gov is trying to find solutions. Florida got its name from a Spanish explorer over 500 years, ago. It wouldn’t be called that now, would it? Finally, to label anything extreme is usually hyperbole that is easily brushed aside by those sincere enough, and who are intelligent enough, to get to the truth. Nature is worthy of your deepest respect and gratitude whether you are an ingrate or devotee. It is.

  6. Mr. Barkley,

    You are correct in that it is not wise to merely argue but but I used the word in response to your use of it.
    It may seem from afar that in Florida hunters run things but in reality politicians do when push comes to shove on big money issues by threatening the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s funding. I also fully agree that predator – prey ratios are of paramount importance. In So. Fla. we are all beginning to suspect that released pet pythons may be at much greater population levels than ever imagined. They’ve been being released W. of Miami and elsewhere for decades and are being documented in many areas.
    An agency contractor just dispatched a 16 footer a month or so ago with a 76 pound deer in its body. Agencies are out to get rid of them but they may be so well established now due to lack of natural predation upon them that they pose a devastating threat to many species whether endangered or not.
    The combined threats from many predators whose populations are unchecked due to protected status may collapse the system entirely someday IMO.
    I don’t understand why one would feel I “strum selfish”. Many of my concerns (e.g. federal management) stem from when I read an EIS regarding an Everglades Restoration nature conservation project. I read a 5 inch thick document and found 2 sentences referring to the preferred alternative as of that date alluding to its endangering the public traveling along the main highway being modified for nature conservation in Everglades Nat. Park.
    Upon further investigation it was proven to be a very serious design flaw that many were aware of but didn’t care as long as nature was benefitting. Myself and others exposed this defect publicly and without a lawsuit everybody got religion found 20 or 30 million dollars and produced 2 more EIS’s resulting in a safer design that helped nature and the public who was paying the bills.
    If I have a perceived fault from a purely environmental perspective it is that I demand to the best of my ability that nature conservation projects fully consider human needs and desires as well as our environmental issues.
    It is not my fault there are so many of us humans around but since I am one I feel a responsibility to protect human interests (e.g. safety, life etc.) when the need arises. If I am wrong at times I apologize and go on but I would never apologize for looking out for my fellow humans.

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