An Inside Look at the Florida Panther Habitat Preservation Plan

The habitat preservation plan is a landscape scale planning document that was prepared by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, the National Park Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These are all collectively known as the Florida Panther Interagency Committee. By the spring of 1992 the working draft has been completed and now in the spring of 1993 the public draft was released and comments were taken during a 60-day period. The US Fish and Wildlife Service received 450 letters, 75% of which were in favor of the plan and 25% opposed. The plan was approved in 1994. Panther Habitat The plan 1) identifies and characterizes occupied and potential panther habitat 2) identifies threats to panther habitat 3) identifies a variety of habitat preservation options. The plan has also publicized the need for a community effort to preserve panther habitat. The Florida Advisory Council on Environmental Education rose to the occasion and awarded to very significant grants. The first grant was made to the American Farmland Trust and the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission who, together with the Golf Citrus Growers Association work together to develop incentives for habitat preservation. The second grant was made to the Florida Farm Bureau, who is put together two educational displays that will be sent to the state and county fairs. They will hold workshops and going to use news, radio and newspaper public service announcements to foster cooperative relationship in matters regarding panther habitat preservation.
Why save panther habitat? The Seminole Indian Tribe states that the panther is a key component of their historical culture. Another reason to say panther habitat is to preserve other wildlife. It is considered an umbrella species for Southwest Florida wildlife. Florida ranks second only to California in the number of endangered species. The wetlands within the range of the panther help store floodwaters, purify water and recharge aquifers from which humans draw water. The wetlands provide a recreational relief valve for humans that seek to escape urban stress. Studies show that Americans spent $59 billion on outdoor activities. A first priority of the Florida Panther Recovery Plan is to secure a viable population of Panthers in South Florida. Habitat preservation is necessary to achieve that goal.
The second aspect of the plan addresses the loss of panther habitat associated with increased population growth in Florida. Florida's population is doubled nearly every 20 years since 1830. It is also shifted. Now 50% of the states population live in South Florida. Severe freezes have also caused the citrus industry to ship south. Oil and gas activities also produce disturbance of vegetation and wildlife. Road upgrades and extensions continue to fragment panther habitat. The Florida Panther Interagency Committee has come up with recommendations to preserve panther habitat. 1. Develop site-specific preservation strategies for the acres South of the Caloosahatchee River. 2. Develop site-specific preservation strategies for the acres North of the Caloosahatchee River. 3. Support current acquisition programs. 4. Evaluate the need to designate critical habitat. 5. Establish a full-time position with the US Fish and Wildlife service to promote, coordinate and monitor multiagency implementation of the plan. 6. Design and develop landowner incentives. This includes tax reforms that modify inheritance tax laws that would be beneficial for habitat preservation. 7. Review and coordinate compliance with existing wetland regulations. 8. Utilize sections 7, 9, 10, of the Endangered Species Act. 10. Provide habitat preservation data to the Game and Fish Commissions Forest Stewardship Coordinator for plans prepared on lands essential to panther recovery.