Citizens, Scientists, Agency Officials to Focus on Need for Additional Populations of Endangered Panthers
GAINESVILLE, Fla.–(ENEWSPF)–March 21, 2014. Citizens from across Florida and Georgia gathered today with members of conservation groups, federal and state agencies, and experts on Florida panther biology and ecology for the first-ever symposium to discuss reintroduction of Florida panthers to their historic range. The event was sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club and held at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law.
“This is an exciting day for Floridians and for the recovery of endangered Florida panthers,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I hope today’s symposium will make restoring panthers to their historic habitat in the Okefenokee and surrounding areas more than a dream.”
In 2008 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a revised recovery plan for Florida panthers that called for reintroducing the cats into their historic range outside South Florida and identified the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding lands in north Florida and southern Georgia as the best habitat. The ability of the area to support Florida panthers, of which only 100-160 animals remain, was also demonstrated by an experimental release of mountain lions from the western United States. The Center, Sierra Club and other groups petitioned the Service to reintroduce the panther to the refuge in 2011. Today’s symposium is a step toward making reintroduction a reality.
“The Okefenokee provides great habitat for Florida panthers,” said Alexis Meyer, Florida panther critical habitat campaign organizer at the Sierra Club. “For these great cats that are the very symbol of wild Florida to have a secure future, they need a second home, outside South Florida.”
The symposium is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and features experts on Florida panthers and ecology, including presentations by Darrell Land, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Florida panther team leader; Erin Myers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Program private lands biologist; Tom Hoctor, University of Florida Center for Landscape Conservation planning director; Richard Hilsenbeck, director of conservation projects for The Nature Conservancy, St. Augustine, Fla.; Daniel Smith, University of Central Florida Department of Biology research associate/adjunct graduate faculty; Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy, Conservancy of Southwest Florida; Michael Lusk, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge manager; and Chris Belden, retired Florida panther recovery coordinator.
The symposium features a keynote address by Joe Guthrie from the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. On Saturday more than 40 attendees will visit the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, a possible panther reintroduction site.
The Florida Panther Symposium is hosted by the University of Florida Levin College of Law’s Conservation Clinic and GreenLaw. It is organized and sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Sierra Club is a national nonprofit, organization of approximately 600,000 members dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth.