Over the last generation, government habitat preservation programs for the critically endangered Florida panther have allowed more than two acres to be destroyed by development for every acre supposedly saved, according to a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service document posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Now, despite official recognition of failing panther population recovery, several new developments threaten to fragment tattered panther habitat even further.
In the period from 1984 to 2009, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service approved 127 developments in areas that it deemed could adversely affect the panther. Those projects destroyed nearly 100,000 acres (96,124) of panther habitat while less than 42,000 acres (41,612) were “preserved” either on or offsite of the projects. It is unclear how many of those preserved acres actually benefit the panther.
Despite this steady loss of habitat, FWS is signing off on more developments and major roads cutting through the remaining panther habitat. One such artery, called Oil Well Road, would be a six-lane road across Camp Keais Strand, the corridor connecting Corkscrew Swamp with Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, there is an ongoing study of a new I-75 interchange at Everglades Blvd., as well as a Collier County “East of 951” highway extension study.
This spreading network of highways is also leading to the demise of the few panthers remaining. There are less than 120 Florida panthers remaining in the wild, a number reduced by a record 23 panther deaths in 2009. Most of those (16) were the result of vehicle collisions. Thus far in 2010, another 5 panthers have died – three from collisions.