Questions and Answers
Q-How many panthers use the refuge?
A-On a monthly time frame, 5-11 panthers use a portion of the refuge for hunting, traveling to other areas, loafing, or denning.
Q-Why is the refuge closed to the public?
A-Public access to the refuge has not been allowed since the refuge’s inception because various outdoor recreation activities would generally disturb panthers or their prey and this would be inconsistent with the refuge purpose of providing optimal panther habitat. However, refuge staff and its cooperating Friends’ Group are preparing an interpretive trail that is tentatively planned to be open in early 2001. Furthermore notwithstanding disturbance to panther habitat, the refuge is not very accessible for public use. Few entry points exist and the existing roads make for rough travel and are easily degraded with extended use. Also, there are over three million acres of public lands in South Florida. Much of this land is available for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, wildlife observation, and other outdoor recreational pursuits. Six nature/visitor centers are operated by various groups and all of these sites are within one hour’s drive of Naples.
Q-Where can I see a panther in the wild?
A-The Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve immediately south of the refuge has a primitive road- Jane’s Scenic Drive that traverses through panther habitat. While panthers are very secretive and chances are slim to actually see one, you may get lucky either driving this road or walking an old logging road off of Jane’s Scenic.
Q-Why do we burn the refuge?
A-The refuge staff with other professionals apply prescribed fire to various habitats to accomplish a variety of objectives. Fire is an inexpensive and efficient tool that has been used for thousands of years to clear the undergrowth and revitalize the understory species. Fire on the refuge is used to maintain native plant communities and improve wildlife habitat especially that for panthers. Also, we employ prescribed fire successfully to reduce the natural fuel loads where we can reduce the risk of severe damage to woodlands that could otherwise occur with a rampant wildfire. In other words, fire danger to habitat and to our neighbors’ property is lowered through the careful application of fire.
Q-How do we keep up with or study the panthers?
A-Our biologists along with state biologists follow previously captured panthers through use of radiotelemetry. This technique involves receiving a radio signal from a cat which has had a radio transmitter attached to its neck. Following these signals enables a biologist to: locate the panther in its habitat, determine where and when panthers may come in contact for breeding, locate den sites, determine travel patterns, and learn about when a panther dies. Our staff may on occasion interpret panther tracks left in trackable areas on the refuge.
On May 29, Friends President Lisa Ostberg and Project Leader Layne Hamilton hosted a meeting to establish the conceptual vision of an environmental education center which will be built on the refuge in 2009. The building is in the limited access area of the refuge, so is accessible only with the accompaniment of refuge or Friends guides, and be primarily used in the winter season to host educational programs for both children and adults.
Initial thinking is that two structures will be built. One will be a screened pavilion located in the footprint of an existing dilapidated cabin which is located on the edge of a cypress swamp. The pavilion will serve as an outdoor classroom for local schools and environmental education-based activities. Additionally, a larger educational facility, built to resemble a Florida .
Crack cabin, will be constructed nearby which will contain facilities for small workshops as well as an interpretive center with a range of exhibits. These facilities will compliment and help expand and diversify the educational experience on the refuge.
With a vision now established, the group, the will address the specific utilization of the buildings. Interested in sharing your experience and passion for environmental education? Be part of this exciting project and call Tom Murray at 239-289-2847.
Naples Daily News Marguerite Jordan . Posted December 2, 2009 at 4:14 p.m.
Photo by FDEP
Students from Golden Gate Middle School (left to right: Bertha Andres, Guerthy Janvier, Soraya Diaz, Lindsay Pierre and Daniel Valdes), along with their teacher Kandi Follis and volunteer educator Cyril Marks recently explored a cypress swamp in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge as part of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Learning in Florida's Environment (LIFE) program. In small groups, students waded or were pulled in a canoe through a section of the refuge where ongoing research examines the growth of orchids on different tree surfaces.
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