Environmentalists want to ensure panther survival

Global warming concern for panther, habitat

A preserved panther named Ranger is unveiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Monday at the Naples FWC Field Office just north of Marco Island. Ranger was killed at age 3 by a motor vehicle on Corkscrew Road in Lee County, August 2006. The 136-pound male Florida panther will be an educational tool used by FWC and on public display at the Rookery Bay Learning Center on Tower Road in Naples. FWC estimates there are 100 Florida panthers left in the world and most are in Southwest Florida.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff

A preserved panther named Ranger is unveiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Monday at the Naples FWC Field Office just north of Marco Island. Ranger was killed at age 3 by a motor vehicle on Corkscrew Road in Lee County, August 2006. The 136-pound male Florida panther will be an educational tool used by FWC and on public display at the Rookery Bay Learning Center on Tower Road in Naples. FWC estimates there are 100 Florida panthers left in the world and most are in Southwest Florida.

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The Sierra Club, acting in partnership with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, has petitioned the Department of the Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service to take action to ensure the Florida panther and its habitat will survive global warming.

The Sierra Club petition builds upon a petition filed in January by the Conservancy, which the Department and the Service have not yet acted upon.

The new partnership effort was praised by Andrew McElwaine, Conservancy of Southwest Florida president. “Our January 2009 petition focused on designating primary habitat in the area generally located south of the Caloosahatchee River,” he said. “The Sierra Club petition includes that territory and expands the request to cover areas beyond our initial petition.”

McElwaine said the help from Sierra Club was especially welcome.

“The Florida panther is a national treasure, not just a Florida one. The Florida panther is the most endangered mammal in North America. It is the last cougar sub-species left in the eastern United States. Its significance goes far beyond southwest Florida. I hope all Americans get engaged in this effort. Extinction is forever and soon it will be too late.”

The new petition:

n Recognizes that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the Fish and Wildlife Service have both committed to safeguarding America’s wildlife and natural resources in the face of climate change.

n Documents overwhelming scientific evidence that global warming will cause stronger hurricanes, floods, droughts, and sea level rise in Florida that will put enormous pressure on the panther’s existing South Florida habitat.

n Relying upon the Service’s own scientific reports and other published papers, requests that this habitat be protected as ‘critical habitat,’ which will require government decision makers to carefully shape their actions to avoid degrading this vital region even as its ecosystems struggle to cope with climate-related disturbances.

n Citing new scientific reports, including papers prepared for the Service, for the first time requests that the government also protect vital panther habitat north of the Caloosahatchee River in the Duette Park, Avon Park, Babcock-Webb, and Fisheating Creek areas. This habitat will provide the panthers with room to migrate and adapt to climate change as its impacts intensify in South Florida. Without such habitat, in addition to protected lands in South Florida, the panther may well go extinct in the next century.

n Requests that the Department and the Service revise the panther recovery plan to make sure that climate change is taken into account in conservation efforts.

n Requests that the Department and the Service decline to issue any new incidental take permits, or undertake any habitat conservation planning, without first designating critical habitat, which will shape all other conservation efforts.

Information for this story provided by Barbara Wilson, Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Kristina Johnson of the Sierra Club.

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