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Saving FL Panthers Could Get a Big Boost

March 17, 2011

NAPLES, Fla. - A proposal to create a new national wildlife refuge north of Lake Okeechobee could give a big boost to efforts to save the Florida panther.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to designate the 150,000-acre Everglades Headwaters refuge as part of a greater effort to connect to the panther refuge in the south. So far, four public meetings have been held and public comment is being accepted until March 31.

Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative of Defenders of Wildlife, says this proposal is different in that it features a public-private partnership.

"One-third of it would be acquired as public lands and a full two-thirds of it would remain in private ownership."

Much of that land would remain under the control of the area ranchers. Fleming says her group is working on a way to compensate ranchers for any losses caused by panthers. Although numbers have been increasing, the latest estimates say there are still only 100 to 160 adult panthers in Florida.

A "Save the Panther Day" open house is planned from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge near Naples. Sandy Mickey, park ranger at the Florida Panther and Ten Thousand Islands national wildlife refuges, says these areas are instrumental in helping increase panther numbers.

"It certainly has rebounded and that's thanks in part to habitat protection in south Florida, including the refuge which was established in 1989."

As the panther population grows, Mickey says, people should never feed wildlife, watch out for wildlife while driving, secure pet food and garbage, and protect pets and livestock in enclosed structures - especially at night.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - FL