Make (lots of) room for panthers
Do roughly 100 animals deserve 3 million acres of Florida? If the animals are endangered, the answer may have to be yes. At the very least, we're glad that someone is asking.
Last month, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate 3 million acres in western Palm Beach and Broward and eastern Collier counties as protected Florida panther habitat. Once, thousands of tawny-colored panthers roamed not just the state but the Southeastern U.S. There remain 100 to 120, living south of the Caloosahatchee River that flows from Lake Okeechobee to Fort Myers. That population is too small for genetic diversity.
Admittedly, the request is staggering. The area would be larger than Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties combined, with almost enough left over for another Martin and St. Lucie. Consider, though, that the federal government created the first panther preservation plan nearly 20 years ago and has updated it three times, yet the numbers haven't improved enough. The panthers' biggest threat is habitat loss from development. That development also brings roads, on which cars kill the animals.
According to the petition, the goal over the next 12 years should be to establish three populations of roughly 240 panthers each. The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to rule by mid-December. The Endangered Species Act saved the bald eagle, the national bird. You can see bald eagles in Florida. The Endangered Species Act also saved the American alligator, to the point where Florida now can hold a gator hunting season. So the idea of saving the Florida panther really should not seem far-fetched - just overdue.
Copyright 2009 The Palm Beach Post.
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