February 15, 2020
Landscape Conservation and Regional Planning for the Florida Panther
by: Meegan, R. & Maehr, D. 2002 from Southeastern Naturalist
Instructor: Margaret Banyan, PhD
In an effort to guide future development and conservation efforts to protect the dwindling habitat of the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) Meegan and Maehr studied the habitat, range and habits of the animals for two decades. By piecing together a patchwork of large (500 hectares) of forest with smaller corridors of vegetation, the cats can more freely thrive and disperse throughout what is left of their former range. The review radio signaled tracking data of 3 collared panthers lead to clearly defined routes north and south from Collier to Hendry, Glades and Lee Counties.
Based on the data collected, the authors identified nearly 1 million ha of forest in an 18- county study area which could be connected or preserved to enable the growth of the panther population. At the time of the study there were approximately 100 animals roaming in the wild. Current estimates place the number between 120-230 according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife service from 2017. The loss of forested area in Florida is estimated at 61,000 ha annually. The panther’s primary habitat is made up of cattle ranches, citrus farms, the Panther Preserve and what remains of the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress preserves.
As the animals tend to avoid noisy areas along highways and suburban developments, their range is limited to the more rural central corridor of Florida. The tracking allowed for identification of a site where several animals crossed the Caloosahatchee River and gained access to Glades County. They crossed a span of the river which had gently sloping banks and was 100m wide. To get to this area, they crossed 14 forest patches ranging from 2 to 20,218ha before gaining access to the river. They don’t shy from the water, as one was reported swimming from Keeywadin Island to Port Royal only to surprise a couple at their mansion’s back door back in 2015 (Naples Daily News).
The authors focused on creating forested corridors that provide cover up to the road shoulder and including an underpass to allow for the animal’s continued dispersal. All too often we hear of animals struck and killed by the side of the road in Collier and Lee counties. Along Daniels Road, in Lee County, the speed limit changes during the evening to a slower speed to allow drivers time to react to avoid the animals crossing the roadway. Current plans to extend roadways through panther habitat include these overpasses but fail to recognize the habitat loss associated with additional roads. The Facebook site for the M-CORE planned for Southwest Florida even includes a picture of a panther crossing under a roadway to demonstrate their friendly stance toward habitat loss.
The value of green space and the importance of knowing where not to grow is clearly detailed by both the Porter text and the article’s authors. A balance must be struck between growth and preservation. By clustering development and creating linkages between natural habitats, we can develop the corridors for expansion and dispersal of the fauna who inhabit these green spaces. Developments like the one where I live have clustered homes and condominiums and allowed for a preserve of a cypress and pine hammock, unfortunately, the preserve is mostly cut off from the surrounding native areas by a fence, walls, & gates leaving but one access point via a four lane road.
Suggestions for conservation efforts include:
The urgency of the mission to preserve and protect the Florida panther is clearly defined. Should continued development be allowed to encroach on the animal’s habitat, they will be relegated to a dysfunctional, isolated remnant of a once widespread range thereby ensuring their extinction. We, as planners need to focus on creating linkages between these isolated ranges and allow for their protection to the benefit of all. For without the green spaces and open ranges, we will never have the opportunity to enjoy a Thoreau moment where we can commune with nature living simply in our natural surroundings.
Todd Truax For Commissioner
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Bonita Springs, FL 34136 | 239-994-6872
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Todd Truax For Congress
P.O. Box 367193
Bonita Springs, FL 34136 | 239-214-1088
© 2018 Todd Truax For Congress.
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