Friday, May 24, 2013

Milestone in Land Acquisition of Wildlife Corridor

Caloosahatchee River
On Thursday, May 16th, representatives from diverse environmental fields met in La Belle, FL to celebrate a milestone in land acquisition.

Numerous environmental groups, State and Federal biologists, and other interested parties attended the Interagency Florida Panther and Wetlands Conservation Forum on the Caloosahatchee River. The event celebrated the one year anniversary of the Lone Ranger Forge property acquisition, formerly known as the American Prime Property.

The Lone Ranger Forge property exemplifies the great conservational strides communities can make when working together. The land deal was a joint effort between The Nature Conservancy, Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, among other groups. Their work has produced an essential step in creating wildlife corridors in Florida.

The property is 1,278 acres located on the Caloosahatchee River. Lone Ranger Forge is unique in that it abuts the only portion of the River that male Florida panthers will swim across to disperse north. Unfortunately, females do not swim at this location, which raises concerns about panther migration to the north of the River. Portions of the land will remain as ranch lands for cattle, a highly contiguous land management use with conservation, while other locations will receive wetland restoration. The property is an example of how multi-land uses can cohesively benefit conservation.

The line of trees, an old rail line, is the path that panthers follow to the river.
Fish and Wildlife Service announced at the forum that a new Panther Recovery Team is being established to address panther recovery. With the previous Team convening in 2008, current issues are in need of updating. The goals of the new Team will cover the following topics: Create a better inventory and monitoring system for population estimates; Develop range expansion opportunities and reintroductions outside of southwest Florida; Create a genetics management plan; Integrate private land holders for land management; Identify and  improve collision areas to reduce vehicular deaths; Review current recovery criteria to assess if goals can be reached; and, review the taxonomy of Florida panthers with updated data.

A look toward the future for panthers is welcome news, one that should improve the science and better facilitate the species recovery. As one of the rarest mammals in America, if not the world, the Florida panther's future will serve as a template for large predator recovery.

This is just one of many steps in creating a connected, wild Florida. Wildlife corridors are one of the most important conservation initiatives that will save species, as well as protect against the impacts of climate change. In connecting protected lands with corridors, species will have the opportunity to safely move throughout their habitat and expand into historic ranges previously denied to them by inhospitable terrain. Corridors also lessen the chances of panther-vehicle collision and interactions with humans. The concept of creating one contiguous corridor is a long way from finished, but the Lone Ranger Forge is an important milestone for Florida panthers.

More information from FWS can be found here.
Attendees of the Interagency Forum, representing diverse environmental interests.
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