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Published on: News

Protecting Panther Country

published on: July 27, 2020

Sprawling eight counties from Polk to Collier, the area included in the Southwest-Central Florida Connector (M-CORES toll road) covers critical wetlands, forests, pristine rivers, and vast ranchlands. Large ranchlands are at the heart of the region’s heritage and economy and these lands play an essential role in maintaining the ecological diversity of Southwest Florida. Based on data from the Florida Ecological Greenways Network, over 50% of the Southwest-Central corridor area offers critical linkages of habitat for species in the region.

The vast rural lands that lie in the path of this proposed toll road provide essential habitat connectivity for the endangered Florida Panther, with 82% of their mating habitat within this study area. A massive toll road, and its accompanying infrastructure and development, would be devastating to the already vulnerable population of Florida panthers. Roadside collisions are the leading cause of death for Florida panthers with 22 panthers killed on roadways last year. More roads and traffic will almost certainly lead to increased fatalities and a biologist at US Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that construction of the toll road could lead to extinction of our iconic state animal

We highlight rural lands in our Gems Report, including those areas that lie within the proposed path of the Roads to Ruin. 

GEMS Spotlight: Dinner Island Ranch

Dinner Island Ranch Wildlife Management Area is southwest of Lake Okeechobee in Hendry County. This conservation success was protected in 2003 and contains a mixture of wetlands and pasture. It provides critical linkages to conservation lands in Southwest Florida needed to sustain the Florida panther and allow the species to thrive beyond their core population in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Maintaining the integrity of these conservation lands, and the many ranches within the Southwest-Central corridor, are vital to sustaining populations of wildlife like bobcats, black bears, and the treasured Florida panther. 

Dinner Island Ranch Wildlife Management Area connects surrounding conservation lands to provide habitat and hunting grounds for the Florida panther and other species

How can you help save rural conservation lands like Dinner Island Ranch? Help us stress the urgency and importance of land conservation and management to the Florida Legislature. When you buy a copy of our Gems Report, another copy goes to the desks of state lawmakers. Contribute to conservation by purchasing your Gems Report today.

Currently, Florida is in a budget crisis as it deals with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite budget cuts across the board, Governor DeSantis approved $738 million over the next five years to move ahead with the toll roads project. In 2020, a year when Floridians desperately need relief, our governor has prioritized a massive project that is bad for our health, economy, wildlife, rural communities, and our future. We must demand  #NoBuild on these Roads to Ruin!

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