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article imageConservation groups petition gov’t to reintroduce Florida panther

By Lynn Herrmann     Feb 14, 2011 in Environment
Fayetteville - Conservation groups have joined forces in petitioning the US Secretary of the Interior to reintroduce the endangered Florida panther into suitable areas of south Georgia and northern Florida, including the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
A scientific petition (pdf) requesting the Interior Department issue a rule that would authorize release of the Florida panther “in and around the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge” was filed last week, according to a press release by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
A group including the CBD, Cougar Rewilding Foundation, One More Generation and The Florida Panther Society Inc. filed the petition last week seeking a ruling that would allow “an experimental population under authority of section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act,” according to the filing.
Much of the Florida panther’s decline has been the result of habitat loss and historic persecution, the filing notes. As a result, its remaining breeding population exists on less than five percent of its original range. The group notes that only 100 to 120 animals survive in South Florida, noting the panther’s population is “limited by its own density within a shrinking island habitat.”
Michael Robinson, of the CBD, said: “For the Florida panther to have any chance at long-term survival it needs more than one population in South Florida.” Robinson, the petition’s primary author, added: “Reintroduction of Florida panthers will aid their recovery and help restore the natural balance in some of the ecosystems in which panthers lived for thousands of years,” the CBD press release states.
The reintroduction effort calls for the protection of the panthers’ current occupied habitat as well as the establishment of two new populations of at least 240 animals in each.
According to the CBD press release:
Scientists have identified the Greater Okefenokee Ecosystem in South Georgia and North Florida as the best habitat for a reintroduction of Florida panthers, with an abundance of deer and feral hogs for prey, and a top prospect for reintroduction. Panthers would aid regeneration of the region’s much-diminished longleaf pine forests through preying on feral hogs that eat the longleaf pine saplings and seed cones.
According to the Naples News, a 2008 federal plan ranks the Okefenokee ecosystem as the most satisfactory for helping prevent the panther’s extinction.
Christopher Spatz, Cougar Rewilding Foundation president, stated: “The panther was once shepherd to the vast reaches of the vanishing longleaf pine ecosystem. May this day mark the beginning of the recovery of the forest by restoring its ancient guardian,” according to its website.
More about Florida panther, Center for biological diversity, Okefenokee national wildlife refuge, Endangered species, Endangered species act
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