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The highly endangered Florida panther has more space in South Florida

Carlton Ward, Jr.
The Nature Conservancy of Florida

The Hendrie Ranch in Highlands County sold a 661-acre conservation easement along the Florida Wildlife Corridor, which will benefit the Florida panther.

The Florida panther was just given a little more land on which to roam as the highly endangered animal teeters on the edge of extinction.

The Hendrie Ranch in Highlands County sold the rights to develop – in this case never develop – 661 acres along the Florida Wildlife Corridor, which is 18-million-acre network of public and private lands, waterways, and wildlife habitats that stretches from the Everglades in the south to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.

“The acquisition of an easement on this property is a great step in conserving a valuable connection between existing public lands securing an important corridor for many species, including the Florida panther,” said Melissa Tucker, director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation.

It also provides a vital pathway for the migration of animals, allowing them to move between habitats, find food and water, and search for a mate, which is particularly important for the panther with around 230 left in the wilds of South Florida.

The Florida panther became one of the first animals put on the federal Endangered Species List in the 1970s. Rural Lee and Collier counties are part of the animal’s expansive range.

Every purchase of the rights to develop another’s property for the wildlife corridor, called a conservation easement, gives the panther more space in the woods and away from people. That’s vital to the species as the number of Florida panthers killed by cars every year has been increasing as more people move into South Florida and more homes, businesses, and roads are built for them.

At least 27 Florida panthers were killed by vehicles when crossing roads in 2021, which set a new high since records have been kept. The previous record killed by cars and trucks was 25 in 2016.

To help keep panthers from being killed by vehicles, wildlife underpasses have been built, and the speed limit has been lowered on known panther crossing areas.

Often the panther killed is young, which is a significant concern for the survival of the species as it reduces the already small population and limits their ability to expand their range. The panther is a subspecies of the North American cougar.

 The black bear is another endangered animal that will benefit from the 661 acres in its habitat that will never be the site of new homes or businesses
Carlton Ward, Jr.
The Nature Conservancy of South Florida
The black bear is another endangered animal that will benefit from the 661 acres in its habitat that will never be the site of new homes or businesses

The corridor is also home to other endangered and threatened species including the black bear, red-cockaded woodpecker, and the American crocodile. The square mile of conservation rights again on the Hendrie Ranch is along the Lake Wales Ridge, and the farmer will continue to raise cattle on the property.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor was launched in 2010 by Carlton Ward Jr., Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, Joe Guthrie, and Elam Stoltzfus, who undertook a 100-day expedition on foot, kayak, and bike through 1,000 miles of Florida's wilderness

The Florida panther, a subspecies of the North American cougar, is native to the southern part Florida.

The animal’s range also includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest, Hendry County, Miami-Dade County, and Monroe County.

“The protection of essential landscapes, like those of Hendrie Ranch, has been a priority for The Nature Conservancy for decades because they are integral in providing wildlife such as the Florida panther and Florida black bear additional secure corridors in which to move safely,” said Greg Knecht, interim executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida.

“This collaboration of landowner, federal and state agencies, and nonprofit organizations successfully results in the acquisition of conservation easements that safeguard lands and waters critical to biodiversity, climate resilience, and our state’s future.”

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

Copyright 2023 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Tom Bayles