Florida Panther
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Florida Panther

Protecting and Restoring Panther Habitat

Wide-ranging animals, panthers need vast territories to survive. But the ongoing development of Florida’s natural and agricultural lands continues to shrink what little natural panther habitat remains. To sustain and grow the existing panther population, it’s critical to find places the big cats can call home.

The Problem

Habitat loss reduces the panther's ability to find prey, mates and suitable resting and denning sites. It also contributes to the two greatest causes of panther death, aggression between panthers and collisions with motor vehicles.

How We’re Helping

Defenders is on the steering committee of the Florida’s Water and Land Legacy campaign, working to promote Florida’s Water and Land Conservation Legacy Constitutional amendment. The amendment, which if approved by the voters would take effect July 1, 2015, sets aside one-third of the existing documentary stamp tax (paid when real estate is sold) to restore the Everglades, protect drinking water sources, and revive the state’s historic commitment to protecting natural lands and wildlife habitat through the Florida Forever program. The amendment will provide more than $10 billion for water and land conservation in Florida without any tax increase.

Defenders is also deeply invested in seeing that a Habitat Conservation Plan for panther and other imperiled species (currently being developed under the Endangered Species Act for Eastern Collier County) achieves substantial conservation benefits. We have been working for years with landowners and other conservation organizations on landscape level protection for the Florida panther on approximately 196,000 acres of rural, agricultural and wild lands. The habitat conservation plan is intended to secure a contiguous range of panther habitat connecting the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve through Camp Keais Strand and the Okalaocoochee Slough with Corkscrew Marsh and adjacent lands in the region. Habitat Conservation Plans aim to reduce conflicts between listed species and economic activities through a framework that allows private development yet benefits threatened and endangered wildlife by encouraging "creative partnerships" among conservationists, landowners, government agencies, and other interested parties. Established through a public process, these plans are legally binding long-range visions for the permanent protection of wildlife habitat.

Defenders and our conservation colleagues are also working to raise support to move forward with land acquisition, conservation easements and restoration of agricultural and wild lands that would expand the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. We are urging federal agency leadership to return to a broad, science-based vision for expansion of the national wildlife refuge system in south Florida, and support staff, conservation group and landowner proposals for the Florida Panther, Everglades Headwaters and Fisheating Creek National Wildlife Refuges and Conservation Areas.

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In the Magazine
Roads and development spell trouble for Florida's panthers
In the Magazine
Last year saw a record-high 17 deaths of the endangered big cats on Florida roadways—with one of these still under investigation. In 2008, 10 panthers were killed by vehicles.
In the Magazine
Big Cypress teems with wildlife and is a refuge for the critically endangered Florida panther. But the roads here make it a dangerous place for the big cats, with vehicle collisions one of the leading causes of death.