Connectivity: it can be life or death for the endangered Florida panther in the Western Everglades. In Collier County, there are two important major corridors used by wildlife, especially large mammals such as the Florida panther. The proposed Bellmar development threatens to encroach on, and significantly reduce the viability of, one of these corridors – the Camp Keais Strand. Speak up to protect the panther, the Western Everglades, the Florida Wildlife Corridor, and our public lands!
Attend the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) public meeting for Bellmar scheduled for December 7, 2023, at the Naples Regional Library (map) from 4 pm to 7 pm. You can also click below to write a letter.
Bellmar would add more than 4,000 homes and associated strip malls only about one mile away from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, threatening not only our wildlife, but also our public lands.
The project would destroy more than 1,700 acres of Primary Zone panther habitat –the most valuable to the future of the species- and 140+ acres of wetlands.
Compounding habitat and corridor impacts is the threat of panther-vehicle collisions, a major source of mortality for this species. Development on the Bellmar site will add tens of thousands of vehicle trips per day onto already-deadly roadways.
Loss of these core habitats, fragmentation of an essential corridor, more cars on the road, and impacts to the nearby Panther Refuge will jeopardize the Florida panther’s future.
Bellmar’s location in such close proximity to the Panther Refuge is also extremely problematic because the Refuge requires use of controlled burns to manage their lands for the benefit of deer, panthers, and the dozens of other protected species that reside there. The Refuge managers have expressed concerns that management of the preserve, hydrologic restoration, and important listed species habitats will be at risk if the Bellmar development is approved as proposed.
“The [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service has concerns about the proximity of these developments to the FPNWR…. This encroachment toward conservation lands can complicate the appropriate management of the FPNWR.” – Kevin Godsea, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge manager
Another listed species in the cross-hairs is the imperiled crested caracara because there is a nest in the middle of the project site. The applicant could protect the most sensitive area for this listed species by eliminating a mere 50 acres from their massive project, but thus far has not done so.
However, it is important to remember that even if the developer avoids the 50 acres around the nest, the breeding pair – and caracaras more broadly- are losing 1,440 acres of habitat in their territory that the USFWS is not requiring the developer to replace.
Act now to protect the Panther Refuge and the Western Everglades from encroaching development. Please join us at the Naples Regional Library (Map) from 4 pm to 7 pm on Thursday, December 7 to oppose this project.
If you are unable to join us in person and/or would prefer to comment in writing via email, please click below as that is also greatly appreciated. The Conservancy will be compiling all comments to FDEP and submitting them together.
US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2021. Letter from US Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to Collier County regarding Bellmar dated March 1, 2021