The past year has presented many challenges in our efforts to protect Florida’s wildlife, habitat, and natural resources. However, because of the support of our members, donors, and stakeholders, we’ve been able to make significant progress on many of the complex issues facing our state’s wild places and iconic species.
Through the end of the year, we’ll share stories of our accomplishments in conservation to recognize our collective efforts, reflect on our successes, and prepare for the work ahead.
The Florida Panther & Habitat Connectivity
[Florida panther. Photo credit: Max Freund.]
Florida’s lush, wild landscapes are among the most productive ecosystems in the world and support a wide variety of plant and animal species, including the endangered Florida panther. But Florida’s magnificent wilderness is under constant threat: wetlands are being drained to make way for urban development, native plant and animal species are being displaced or destroyed, and roads continue to fragment this beautiful state. The Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) is committed to keeping the ‘wild’ in Florida and has been protecting Florida wilderness since 1936. With increasing development continuing to threaten the survival and recovery of the Florida panther, securing, and enhancing additional habitat to protect this iconic species is paramount.
The Florida panther is the state’s official animal, and it has been listed as a federally endangered subspecies since 1967. Historically, the Florida panther roamed across the southeastern portion of the United States—all the way from Florida to Louisiana throughout the Gulf Coast states and Arkansas. Today, the breeding population of Florida panthers is almost completely restricted to just the southwestern tip of the State. This represents less than 5% of its historic range.
The FWF uses the Florida panther as one of the guiding species for the organization’s conservation efforts across the state. As an umbrella species, protecting panthers and their habitat, in effect, protects a wide variety of native plants and animals. To best protect the Florida panther and other native species, FWF focuses on habitat conservation and ensuring wildlife habitat is connected through corridors and wildlife crossings.
Roadways present a significant barrier to wildlife movement, and vehicle strikes on roads are the leading cause of mortality for the endangered Florida panther. This is why wildlife crossings play such an important role in protecting and recovering this iconic species. FWF continues to help secure wildlife crossings in the state and advocate for additional crossings on Florida’s roads.
For years FWF provided technical expertise and advocacy to fix the deadly barrier Interstate 4 (I-4) creates for wildlife. This year, we celebrated the groundbreaking of a 61-foot-wide x 8-foot-high underpass with fencing to guide wildlife toward the passage rather than crossing I-4. This underpass will also re-connect the landscape through the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area, the southern edge of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.
[A panther strolls beneath an underpass.]
As FWF continues to fight for full funding of Florida Forever, work with conservation partners and promote private land protection, 2022 resulted in the acquisition and permanent protection of important properties including:
- An additional 768 acres within the 11,000 Wolfe Creek Florida Forever Project, Santa Rosa County
- 376-acre property within the St. Joe Timberland Florida Forever Project, Franklin County
- Conservation easement of 3,634 and 615 acres within the Kissimmee-St. Johns River Connector Florida Forever Project, Okeechobee County
- Conservation easement of 1,882 acres within the Fisheating Creek Ecosystem Florida Forever Project, Highlands County
- Conservation easement of 663 acres within the Lake Wales Ridge Florida Forever Project, Highlands County
At the local level, FWF’s decade-long support and leadership with the Conservation Collier program also resulted in the acquisition of 1,800 acres in 2022, with advocacy to support an additional 8,000 acres in 2023.
None of these efforts are possible without the help of our members and supporters. Please consider supporting the Florida Wildlife Federation’s efforts to secure additional habitat, wildlife crossings, and habitat connectivity by making a donation at the link below.