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Sierra Club Florida

The Florida Panther


Tim Thumb


The Florida Panther, the state symbol, is one of the most threatened species on the planet. With 100-160 remaining, the threats of habitat loss, deaths by cars, and the increased pressure of remaining wild lands, their protection is of great importance.

With the listing of Critical Habitat recently denied by the 11th Court, protection by other means is of the essence. The greatest threat to Florida panthers is habitat loss. Highways and development are increasingly fragmenting Florida. We have enough infrastructure currently in place, which could be refurbished, to support the state’s growing population. With new developments, including new roads, Florida panthers are at a greater chance of being hit by cars - the leading cause of death in a year that has broken all previous records.

There is still time to stop the carnage and prevent the panther's extinction. By protecting Florida's vast interior rural landscape from development, creating wildlife corridors to connect conservation areas, and diverting panthers away from our roads, we can give the big cat a protected home and safe paths to travel.

Although FWS has stricken its decision to list Critical Habitat, the residents of southwest Florida have the opportunity to get ahead of the game by taking steps to increase conservation lands, prevent development within panther habitat, and work in a multi-stakeholder audience for education – all of which will contribute to improved species and land protection and a higher quality of life for residents and tourists alike.

How do we want Florida to be represented – as a concrete wasteland or something still a little wild that we can enjoy, explore, and protect?

Panther Description and History

Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi) are a member of the big cat family.
They are long-lived (from 5-10 years), have only a few young, and have large territories.

They are a tawny color (kittens have spots for camouflage), weighing from 100 to 160lbs, and are 6 to 7 feet long. In some cases, their long tales have a crook at the end, due to inbreeding.

They hunt mostly at night, feeding primarily on wild hogs and deer, and resting during the day.





Important Dates in the history of the Florida Panther

  • 1832 - Bounty placed on Florida panthers in all Florida counties.
  • 1887 - State of Florida authorizes $5 bounty for each panther scalp.
  • 1937 - Florida legislature passes a bill to eradicate the white-tailed deer due to disease.
  • 1946 - Panther listed as a subspecies of Felis concolor in North and South America.
  • 1950 - Panther regulated as a game species.
  • 1958 - Florida panther listed as an endangered species under state law.
  • 1967 - Federal government lists Florida panthers as endangered.
  • 1973 - Florida panther added to newly created Endangered Species Act.
  • 1981 - First Florida panther Recovery Plan.
  • 1982 - Florida panther designated as State animal.
  • 1989 - Florida panther National Wildlife Refuge established.
  • 1991 - Florida panther license plates go on sale.
  • 1994 - 8 female Texas cougars introduced to increase genetic diversity (later removed from population).
  • 2010 - US Fish & Wildlife Service petitioned to list Critical Habitat.
  • 2012 - US FWS petition denied.
  • photo by CSWF


Habitat

Florida panthers prefer hardwood hammocks and pinelands. The saw palmetto plant is the most important plant species, used by panthers for resting, stalking prey, and as dens. Habitat fragmentation and loss is the greatest threat facing the Florida panther.

Panther Current and Historic Ranges





Essential habitat for the Florida panther is broken down into the following areas of importance:

Primary Zone
918,000+ acres of natural and disturbed cover types.
Supports the only known breeding panther population.
Could support 71-84 panthers.

Dispersal Zone 150,000 acres immediately north of the Caloosahatchee River.
Would function as a landscape linkage to allow panthers to move out of south Florida.
Would not support a permanent population.

Secondary Zone
328,000+ acres immediately adjacent to the Primary Zone containing lower quality habitat.
Provides temporary habitat or refuge for panthers ranging outside of the Primary Zone.
If restored, could support 25-30 panthers, but current conditions could not support this.




Threats

Panther Deaths: 2012






Panther Deaths: 5 year period.



The five-year average of annual panther deaths is approximately 25 panthers, with, on average, 17 killed yearly by vehicles. Vehicle collisions are the largest human-caused threat to individual Florida panthers; vehicle collisions were previously second only to intraspecific aggression, which is affected by the ever-decreasing habitat available for panthers.

Intraspecific aggression is responsible for second largest number of panther deaths. It occurs when panthers (often males, who have larger ranges and tend more to roam) act territorially. This is correlated with the panther’s shrinking available habitat within south Florida.

How to limit vehicular collisions:
  • Slow down and pay attention, particularly around corners, when driving in rural areas where panther crossings are known to occur, especially around dawn and dusk.
  • Stop development (both housing and transportation) in known panther habitat and establish underpasses that will allow panthers to pass underneath.
  • Increase number and visibility of caution signs where panthers have been killed or are known to cross.




Get Involved



Lawsuit Filed to Protect Big Cypress and Florida Panthers From Off-road Vehicles

FORT MYERS, Florida, May, 2013— In an effort to reduce damaging off-road vehicle use in Big Cypress National Preserve, conservation groups (including Sierra Club) filed a lawsuit today against the National Park Service for failing to protect Florida panthers and other imperiled species. The suit asserts that the Park Service violated the Endangered Species Act as well as the preserve's own Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan by designating hundreds of miles of new trails for off-road vehicle use across two units of the preserve.

“Big Cypress is prime habitat for the Florida panther, and protection of big open spaces where animals like panthers can roam undisturbed is the primary purpose of the preserve,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As Floridians, we have an obligation to keep places like this protected for our wildlife.”

The 720,000 acre Big Cypress National Preserve, located just north of the Everglades National Park, was established by Congress as the first national preserve in our nation's history to protect the natural, scenic, hydrologic, floral, faunal and recreational values of the watershed, including panthers. To that end, Congress stressed that public use would come second to maintaining this fragile and unique natural landscape. In July 2012, a federal judge ruled that the Park Service’s major expansion of ORV trails in the preserve’s Bear Island Unit violated environmental laws and the Park Service’s management plan for ORVs in the preserve, and set aside the unauthorized increase in trails. This litigation would secure similar protections for endangered and threatened species such as the Florida panther and eastern indigo snake, as well as fragile wetlands and rare and endemic plants in the Corn Dance and Turner River units. “Big Cypress is one of the most important sanctuaries for Florida panthers.” said Alexis Meyer, Sierra Club’s associate organizing representative. “The addition of hundreds of miles of trails for motorized recreational vehicles not only poses a threat to panthers, but also degrades the habitat of many plant and animal species.”

“NPS acknowledges that off-road vehicle use in the Big Cypress is a high-impact recreational activity which damages soils and plants, changes hydrology, leads to the spread of invasive plant species, fragments habitat, disturbs wildlife, and degrades the experience of the preserve for the many non-motorized visitors,” said Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association. “The purpose of the preserve's Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan is to allow for continued motorized recreational use in the preserve — but only on a specified mileage of designated trails."

“With the opening of these trails in Big Cypress, the Park Service has failed to protect valuable and sensitive resources of the preserve from off-road vehicle damage, failed to appropriately involve the public in its management decisions, and failed to comply with the preserve’s management direction.” said Sarah Peters, a staff attorney with Wildlands CPR.

The Park Service issued the ORV plan in 2000 following years of advocacy by environmentalists for transition from dispersed use — which had created 23,000 miles of trails throughout the preserve — to a sustainable system of designated trails. The plan drastically reduced the extensive network of trails that had been created. But in defiance of that plan, the Park Service has now increased the miles of trails where ORVs may go in the Corn Dance and Turner River units by nearly 100 percent and 60 percent respectively.

The conservation groups are represented by the Washington, D.C. public interest environmental law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal. Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org
Alexis Meyer, Sierra Club, (727) 490-8215, alexis.meyer@sierraclub.org
Matthew Schwartz, South Florida Wildlands Association, (954) 993-5351, southfloridawild@yahoo.com
Sarah Peters, Wildlands CPR, (541) 345-0299, sarah@wildlandscpr.org
Brian Scherf, scherfb@bellsouth.net


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