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Florida Panther, Photo John Hollingsworth, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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  FINAL REFUGE CONSERVATION PLAN RELEASED TO PROTECT THE PANTHER AND PROVIDE FOR NEW PUBLIC VIEWING AREAS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 24, 2000 Contact: Tom MacKenzie 404/ 679-7291

Jim Krakowski 941/353-8442 ext. 27

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its final Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (FPNWR). The plan will guide the operation of the refuge for the next ten to fifteen years.

"The plan is important because it outlines provisions that will help the Florida panther, additional threatened and endangered species, and the other wildlife on the refuge, yet provide unique wildlife viewing opportunities for the public," said Southeast Regional Director Sam. D. Hamilton. "I wish to thank all the people who helped pull this plan together. It was truly a community project."

Hamilton went on to say that the plan's benefits for the panther include:

  • Providing optimal habitat conditions on the refuge,
  • Conducting research to determine panther habitat needs,
  • Protecting off-refuge lands through cooperative land management actions,
  • Partnering with private landowners to improve their lands for panther use,
  • Developing programs that promote public understanding of the panther's needs.

    Planning and development of the CCP began in 1997. This effort incorporated a variety of stakeholders comprised of private citizens, farmers adjacent to the refuge, conservation groups, sportsmen and women, and local and state government agencies. The public provided input into the plan through scoping meetings and community forums that fielded a variety of issues throughout the process. The final plan was developed from public comment on a draft plan and from additional input from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC). Public desire to gain access to the refuge was included in the plan's development with two primary opportunities selected as the best compatible uses.

    "Thanks to all the input from the public, we are now able to focus on two excellent public use options," said Refuge Manager Jim Krakowski. "This should give everyone the chance to see this unique and vital habitat while accomplishing the primary purpose of Florida panther recovery."

    Krakoskwi said the two public use sites will be developed to have minimal impact on panthers while fostering public awareness and understanding of refuge resources.

    First, a short interpretive trail in an area of low panther use will be created to promote understanding of a mosaic of habitats found on the refuge, including hardwood hammocks, pine forests, and wet prairie. The trail will be developed in collaboration with the "Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge." The trail will be an important link for people to learn more about the Florida panther and the many challenges it faces.

    Second, a waterbird viewing area along SR 29 will be created to enable the public to see a wide variety of birds, including endangered wood storks, great egrets, white ibis, little blue herons, and other wading birds. Another public use that will be considered in the future is fishing. Fishing at Pistol Pond will be evaluated after evaluating its feasibility for safety and other logistical concerns.

    "Access to the refuge and hunting were the most often discussed issues" said Krakowski. "After a great deal of discussion and evaluation, we determined that allowing deer hunting on this refuge would not be in the best interest of providing a safe place for the Florida panther, which is our primary purpose."

    Although the draft plan proposed studies to determine the compatibility of deer hunting on the refuge, many public comments suggested that would not be cost efficient. Extensive post-draft consultations with FFWCC indicated that the Commission felt that a compatibility determination should be made without further study. While the Service does support managed deer hunts across several public land areas in southwest Florida, the need for an additional deer hunting area is not critical.

    "Hunters already have access to more than 540,000 acres in the Big Cypress Basin area," said Krakowski. "We need to save this piece of Florida for panthers."

    Other reasons factored into the no-hunt decision. The refuge, like much of South Florida, does not have an overabundance of deer, the main prey item of the panther. Additionally, there is a chance that a panther could be shot by a hunter. For example, in 1998, a Texas cougar that was part of the Florida panther genetic restoration program was shot on private lands. The refuge serves as an important research and demonstration area for applied panther habitat management. Hunting has the potential of interfering with these projects such as animal monitoring, the establishment of vegetative plots and other panther habitat enhancement. A limited number of final plans are available from the refuge headquarters and can be obtained by calling (941) 353-8442, between 8 a.m.- 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. Visit the Florida panther National Wildlife Refuge website at: http://floridapanther.fws.gov/index.html.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

    Release #: R00-013

     

     

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