Habitat Protection

The Conservancy works to prevent harm to wildlife by preserving their habitats from land-use changes, conserving landscape corridors to provide habitat connectivity, and ensuring that habitat protections are strong.

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Preventing destruction of critically important habitats

Florida is now the third most populated state in the union, and Southwest Florida is experiencing much of that growth directly. Development has led to isolated and reduced wildlife populations in Florida and has strained or removed critical pathways between core habitats.

These limited and fragmented populations may lead to inbreeding which can make for less healthy individuals, disease, and further impact populations. This may also keep wildlife from performing their natural and necessary behaviors, such as feeding or reproduction.

To avoid losing the diversity and species that make our part of the world so unique, the Conservancy diligently works with decision-makers, and directly with developers if possible, to eliminate and minimize the negative impacts of land-use changes on wildlife.

We advocate for:

Protection of habitat into perpetuity

Increasing development, mining, and other intensive uses necessitate the protection of adequate amounts of good quality habitats.

Wildlife has an opportunity to flourish on lands that are no longer available for future development or are in public ownership.

The Conservancy has been supportive of local and state land acquisition programs, and was a champion of the Amendment 1 Land and Water Legacy Initiative.

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Policy Habitat Protect Picayune Black Bear (1)

Habitat Connectivity

Roadways directly impact wildlife through loss of habitat and can result in wildlife being killed or in fragmenting habitat. Widened roads and increased traffic exacerbate these issues. Roadkill mortalities, particularly for those species with large home ranges such as the Florida panther, may be a significant threat.

In planning for future development and transportation systems, the Conservancy advocates for important habitat areas to be avoided and for the creation and protection of corridors to provide connectivity across the landscape and encourage the safe movement of wildlife from one area to another.

In order to help wildlife cross roads that dissect wildlife habitat, the Conservancy also seeks properly sized and located wildlife crossings to be included in transportation and development plans.

Strong protections for endangered species

The Conservancy advocates for species protection laws and management plans to be based on the best available science and to ensure the continued viability of the species. We oppose premature proposals to weaken or remove state and federal protections for listed species.

The Conservancy meets regularly with wildlife agency officials to share thoughts and concerns about dozens of issues facing Southwest Florida’s protected species.

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Black bear tearing into trash bag

Improved coexistence with people

In Florida, wildlife tourism generates over $8 billion in spending, provides over 280,000 jobs, and produces $1 billion in tax revenue every year.

Florida’s expanding population and increased development into wildlife habitat have left wildlife populations with limited space to live in and forced them into closer quarters with humans. In addition to protecting adequate amounts of habitat where wildlife can live a natural life, we also work to reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

Loss of habitat, combined with unsecured trash or an easy meal, can attract wildlife into neighborhoods.

Fl Panther
With only about 120-230 adult Florida panthers remaining, the population is considered to be at risk for extinction.
And while they are protected under the Endangered Species Act, their habitat is not fully protected, which poses the single greatest threat to their existence.

Since the 1930s, at least one-third of the forested land in south Florida has been cleared for agricultural and residential development — and continued threats of fragmentation and development further jeopardize its recovery from the brink of extinction.

 

Tackling The Issues

Intraspecific Aggression

Panther Walk

One of the main causes of death for the territorial Florida panther is what scientists call "intraspecific aggression." To prevent this, an adequate amount of preserved habitat is essential. Whereas panther densities are dependent on such factors as prey density and habitat quality, male panther home ranges average approximately 200 square miles and female home ranges average approximately 75 square miles. By preserving panther habitat and fighting inappropriate development, we can help panthers establish their own individual ranges and decrease these territorial disputes.

Primary Zone Development

DS Housing Development

The range of the Florida panther once extended from Louisiana throughout the Southeast and the entire state of Florida. Today, however, the reproductive segment of the panther population is largely confined to areas south of the Caloosahatchee River. In Kautz et al. (2006), a study considered to be best available science, biologists designated quality habitat centered in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties as "Primary Zone" lands. Panther biologists have defined the Primary Zone as the essential habitat needed to sustain the current population of panthers.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida advocates that development projects avoid impacting any panther habitat or take steps to minimize their impact, especially in this Primary Zone area. We continue to challenge projects such as the Rural Lands West – a 4,100-acre development in the Collier County Rural Land Stewardship Area – and push for such development to move outside of primary panther habitat areas.

wildlife corridors

Panther Crossing Sign - Our Work

The need to provide adequate home range territories is apparent. Unfortunately, development has created physical boundaries prohibiting a panther's movement from one conservation area to another. These islands of habitat must be connected by corridors in which panthers can safely move back and forth. These critical corridors promote a northern expansion of the existing panther population by facilitating their dispersal from south Florida.

Every year, a significant number of panthers are killed attempting to cross roads.

It is imperative to make an attempt to reduce the rate of these human-caused mortalities by directing development away from areas important to panthers and implementing proven highway designs that facilitate the safe movement of panthers across roadways that bisect and fragment areas essential for the persistence and expansion of the panther population.

Ongoing Work

In 2017, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) initiated a 5-year status review for the Florida panther. The aim of this review is to assess new information and science, and ultimately will influence the species’ listing status under the Endangered Species Act list. The panther could be retained as Endangered, could be downlisted to Threatened, delisted and no longer receive protections, or possibly be considered for relisting as a Distinct Population Segment under the Act.

The Florida panther has been an essential part of Florida indigenous ecosystems for millennia. As our state mammal –selected by students in 1982- the panther needs continued protection at the highest level in order for our natural heritage to persist into perpetuity against intensified threats of habitat loss and its associated impacts, increased human population and interactions, genetic isolation, and other factors. These enduring threats continue to warrant listing of the Florida panther as endangered.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, in collaboration with our partners, advocates for the highest level of protection to continue to be afforded to this species.

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interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!

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The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Florida Panther Compensation Program provides financial assistance to those who have experienced depredations by panthers. Ranchers may receive compensation funds for free-ranging cattle that have been lost to panthers. Homeowners keeping pets or small livestock may receive funds to help build a pen to protect them from depredation. The program’s goal is to encourage coexistence between landowners and native wildlife.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida initially launched a one-year pilot program in June of 2011, and the program is currently still active.

The Free-Ranging Cattle Compensation Program is designed to help compensate small farms when their free-ranging animals — typically calves — are lost to panthers.

The Pen Building Assistance Program may provide compensation funds to assist landowners who wish to build a predator-resistant pen to protect their small hobby livestock and pets from losses due to the Florida panther.

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Free-Ranging Cattle Compensation Program

  • Designed to provide financial compensation to those who have lost free-ranging cattle due to a verified Florida panther depredation.
  • Due to limited resources, small, family-owned and operated farms – typically with less than 300 head of cattle – will receive top priority for compensation.
  • Depredation losses due to Florida panthers subsequent to October 2010 will be considered through the program, providing that the loss was investigated and verified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
  • The Free-Ranging Cattle Compensation program may compensate each owner for up to $599 and is subject to change.
  • Compensation may be adjusted under certain conditions, at the discretion of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Panther Crossing Sign - Our Work

PEN BUILDING ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

  • The program offered by Conservancy of Southwest Florida may provide financial assistance for homeowners who build protective pen enclosures.
  • A typical protective pen is composed of chain-link fencing, a roof and is 20 feet by 10 feet and about 6 feet tall.
  • Materials to construct a typical protection pen are estimated at $700-$1,500.
  • Priority is given to those who have had a verified loss of a pet or livestock by a Florida panther. To qualify, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission must have investigated the incident and determined the loss occurred from a Florida panther.
  • The Pen Building Assistance Program may provide up to 75-percent reimbursement, up to $599, for the cost of the materials required for construction of a predator-resistant pen and is subject to change.

HOW TO APPLY

Submit an application to begin the process with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Panther Compensation Program. Necessary information may include a copy of the “Florida Panther Response Plan Investigation Report” and any other relevant written communication you have received about the depredation incident from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Click here for an application form.

Please be advised that in some areas, authorizations or permitting from the local government may be necessary before constructing a pen enclosure.

Send your request to: Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Florida Panther Compensation Program, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, FL 34102. ATTN: Amber Crooks.

Call 239.776-5601 if you have questions about the application process or to confirm that we have received your application.

interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!

Unnecessary toll roads sopped because of questions, concerns, and costs.

Highway traffic

Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance

In May 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill creating the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES). M-CORES anticipated three new toll roads, winding through rural Southwest Florida all the way to the Georgia state line. In 2021, that law was repealed, ending (for now) the push for premature conversion of rural lands into toll roads.

The M-CORES program had three corridors. The corridor that impacted Southwest Florida was the Southwest Central Corridor. This corridor would have stretched from I-75 in Collier County up to I-4 in Polk County, cutting right through the heart of conservation lands, rural agricultural areas, wetlands, and wildlife habitat, especially the habitat needed by the endangered Florida Panther.

The Conservancy provided data and analysis to demonstrate there is no acceptable alignment for this road. Floridians would be better served by having their tax dollars used to make necessary infrastructure improvements, such as broadband to rural areas and improved hurricane shelters. We vigorously opposed this bill and asked for a veto in 2019. As a veto did not occur, we continued our opposition in 2020 through participating in meetings held by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the task force created to draft guiding principles for the Southwest Central Corridor.

Our opposition is backed by data and analysis demonstrating the environmental sensitivity of the areas the toll road could impact, including our white paper linked here.

In 2021, the M-CORES program was repealed.

Our efforts were bolstered by the more than 100 businesses and organizations that are members of the No Roads to Ruin coalition, where the Conservancy serves as a steering committee member.

You can learn more by visiting the No Roads to Ruin website at noroadstoruin.org.

interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!