Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal Agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations.
The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
-Established: June 1989.
-Acres: 26,400 located in Collier County.
-Refuge lies in 14th Congressional District of Florida.
-Location: The refuge is located 20 miles east of Naples, Florida north of Interstate 75 and west of SR 29. The refuge headquarters is in east Naples at Exit 15 of Interstate 75.
• Provide optimum habitat conditions for Florida panther and endangered species.
• Restore and conserve natural diversity and ecological function of refuge fauna and flora.
• Implement environmental education promoting Florida panther and south Florida ecosystem.
• Promote cooperative management of natural resources within the Big Cypress Watershed.
• Provide appropriate opportunities for compatible public use.
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.
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