Brief History of the Southwest Florida Office
In the early 1990s, the Federation recognized that in the coming decades Southwest Florida’s wildlife and habitat will be seriously threatened by growth creeping inland. To draw attention to Southwest Florida’s important role in the greater Everglades system, the Federation dubbed the area the Western Everglades.
The regional office, based in Naples, opened in 1994 with a mission to obtain comprehensive land use planning that forever protects large ecosystems and contributes to the recovery of the endangered Florida panther.
||Defend the Western Everglades from sprawling growth
||Protect native wildlife habitat using the endangered Florida panther as the guiding species
||Promote habitat conservation through public acquisition and landowner incentives
The endangered Florida panther – unique to Southwest Florida - is the guiding wildlife species and efforts are concentrated on protecting the region’s rural lands. Panthers have been extirpated across 95% of their original home range. The core breeding habitat is now Collier, Lee, and Hendry counties – all located in Southwest Florida.
Click here to learn more about the Florida panther including a map of original and current ranges.
Florida panther biologists estimate 180 adult and sub adult panthers remain in the wild. Each individual male panther requires up to 200 square miles for his sole use. Because his home range is so large, protecting panther habitat safeguards the habitats of dozens of other imperiled species. These species include Florida black bear, red-cockaded woodpecker, Audubon’s crested caracara, Big Cypress fox squirrel, Eastern Indigo snake, gopher tortoise, burrowing owl, wood stork, and numerous wild orchids unique to the Western Everglades.
An Overview of Major Campaigns
The Federation’s ongoing rural lands campaign focuses on local growth management plans, landowner incentives, and habitat-protection programs to conserve wildlife habitats.
Areas of concern and interest are
- 1. North Belle Meade, the largest tract of private undeveloped land remaining in Collier County, which has the last populations of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers on private lands in Collier County and is within the home ranges of at least two Florida panthers. North Belle Meade is just north of the Picayune Strand Everglades Restoration Project.
- 2. Private lands north of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge which provide important foraging and regional habitat linkages for panthers, bears and other imperiled wildlife.
- 3. Rural southeastern Lee County which is threatened by mining and currently has tenuous connections to regional conservation lands.
- 4. Rural Hendry County which provides the only pathway for panthers traveling north into central Florida. Hendry County is also important for helping to establish a breeding population north of the Caloosahatchee River and to providing an inland and northward route for wildlife seeking relief from climate change.
- 5. Rural roads which are a major cause of panther deaths and contribute to the loss of habitat. For such a small population, every road kill, particularly of a female panther, takes a toll on a population of 160 animals. Poorly designed roads can destroy or isolate habitat so it is not viable for use by panthers and other wide-ranging species.
How It Is Done
The Southwest Florida Office utilizes many techniques to influence public policy decisions and ensure implementation of those policy decisions.
- Developing strong and broad based partnerships with those having similar and complementary goals.
- Attending and providing testimony at public meetings on matters pertaining to rural lands, wildlife, and wildlife habitat. Repetition and persistence are important components of keeping the conservation mission before the elected officials, the public, and agency staff.
- Participating in government-sponsored stakeholder meetings working on habitat and wildlife issues.
- Keeping agency staff regularly updated on issues and sharing information, data, and documents pertaining to wildlife and habitat protection.
- Monitoring the implementation of local growth management plans to ensure conservation protections are enforced.
- Educating Southwest Florida officials and their staff on the economic, recreational, and aesthetic importance of natural areas and wildlife.
- Working closely with the media.
- Producing white papers, reports, and position statements.
- Supporting the work of the Florida Panther Posse, a fourth grade program administered through Florida Gulf Coast University that educates students about wildlife in their backyards and on public lands. http://www.fgcu.edu/Cas/WingsofHope/pantherposse.html
- Litigating when necessary to ensure that wildlife needs are properly considered in land use planning and permitting.
Important Study Underway
The Federation recently contracted Dr. Dan Smith, noted Transportation Ecologist at the University of Central Florida, to undertake a two-year study of seventeen underpasses in Southwest Florida to determine the most cost-effective design. Dr. Smith was the lead scientist on the Federation-funded 2005-2006 Eastern Collier Wildlife Movement Study which identified road segments in need of wildlife crossings. The current study is the next step – finding the best designed crossing at the most reasonable price.
The stability of the Southwest Florida Office team has resulted in the Federation becoming a credible and influential advocate in the Western Everglades.
- Nancy Payton has worked in the Southwest Florida Office since 1994, the year the office opened.
- Franklin Adams, a longtime Federation board member and Collier County resident, is the “founder” of the Southwest Florida Office
- For fifteen years, the Federation has engaged well-known environment, land use, and growth management attorney Thomas W. Reese to assist the Southwest Florida Office.
- Dr. Dan Smith, University of Central Florida, continues to provide the Southwest Florida Office with expertise in wildlife biology, transportation, and land use planning.
- Federation President Manley Fuller and his seasoned staff in Tallahassee offer important policy and administrative support to the Southwest Florida Office.
20130815_letter_Service to Collier County Commission_TA0262 Hussey
Circuit Proposed Order Denial Settlement Agreement 9 5 13
Judge Pivacek's Order September 19 2013
FWF ESA second amended complaint
Many of the photos shown here were taken with cameras donated by the Florida Wildlife Federation
FGCU Panther Posse