Since the 1930s, at least one-third of the forested land in south Florida has been cleared for agricultural and residential development – and continued threats of fragmentation and development further jeopardize its recovery from the brink of extinction.
The home range of the Florida panther once extended from Louisiana throughout the Southeast and the entire state of Florida. Today, however, the reproductive segment of the panther population is confined to areas south of the Caloosahatchee River. In Kautz et al. (2006), a study considered to be the best available science, biologists designated quality habitat centered in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties as "Primary Zone" lands. Panther biologists have defined the Primary Zone as the essential habitat needed to sustain the current population of panthers.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida advocates that development projects avoid impacting any panther habitat or take steps to minimize their impact, especially in this Primary Zone area. We continue to challenge projects such as the Rural Lands West – a 3,700-acre development in the Collier County Rural Land Stewardship Area – and push for such development to move outside of primary panther habitat areas.
One of the main causes of death for the territorial Florida panther is what scientists call "intraspecific aggression." Of the known radio-collared panthers that have died since radio-tagging began in 1981, 42% were killed by other panthers protecting their home ranges. To prevent this, an adequate amount of preserved habitat is essential. Whereas panther densities are dependent on such factors as prey density and habitat quality, male panther home ranges average approximately 200 square miles and female home ranges average approximately 75 square miles. By preserving panther habitat and fighting inappropriate development, we can help panthers establish their own individual ranges and decrease these territorial disputes.
The need to provide adequate home range territories is apparent. Unfortunately, development has created physical boundaries prohibiting a panther's movement from one conservation area to another. These islands of habitat must be connected by corridors in which panthers can safely move back and forth. These critical corridors promote a northern expansion of the existing panther population by facilitating their dispersal from south Florida.
Since 2005, at least 140 panthers have been killed attempting to cross roads and the number of cats killed on the road each year will likely increase as a direct consequence of both an increasing human and panther population.
Whereas the increase in vehicle-related panther mortalities over the past decade are correlated with a concurrent increase in the panther population, it is imperative to make an attempt to reduce the rate of these human-caused mortalities by directing development away from areas important to panthers and implementing proven highway designs that facilitate the safe movement of panthers across roadways that bisect and fragment areas essential for the persistence and expansion of the panther population.
The Florida Panther Pilot Compensation Program provides financial assistance to help alleviate financial hardship that small farms may experience due to Florida panthers preying on their free-ranging cattle.
Because the population of manatees in Southwest Florida is still very vulnerable, the Conservancy advocates against attempts to downlist the Florida manatee under the Endangered Species Act.
The Conservancy hopes to achieve continued viability of our natural environment and quality of life through growth management and land use planning.
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