Plan seeks to protect endangered species in Collier County rural lands

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The Florida panther via a file photo from the U.S. Geological Survey/ photo by Larry Richardson.
FILE: The Florida panther via a file photo from the U.S. Geological Survey/ photo by Larry Richardson/FILE.

Landowners in eastern Collier County want to take thousands of acres of land with the intentions of developing it. The plan also has a conservation element. The Collier County residents want to protect panthers, but the plan has caused considerable controversy.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida hasn’t given its stamp of approval on the development of eastern Collier County.

“It’s a mixture of agriculture and natural areas and that really is Collier County’s bread basket,” Nicole Johnson said, who works with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “There’s always the concern that the more that we encroach into habitat areas the more potential for human wildlife interactions — negative interactions.”

The Golden Gate Estates has had several negative interactions with wildlife and residents. The location is near where landowners want to build next, which is in the rural lands west area that is just east of the Golden Gate Estates and Oil Well Road.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is working with 11 landowners who want to develop up to 45,000 acres of land. It has outlined how they would protect endangered species like the Florida panther.

The plan seeks to conserve 107,000 acres of the 152,000 acres it collectively owns.

“This is a huge benefit for endangered species and wetlands,” Brad Cornell said, who is on the policy staff for Audubon of the Western Everglades.

The Audubon of the Western Everglades supports this plan. It already works with these landowners in partnership with other conservancy groups through the county’s rural lands stewardship area plan.

Both the federal and county plan creates permits that let owners develop on some land while preserving others.

“To basically protect habitat and wetlands and restore as much as that,” Cornell said. “In exchange for letting the land owners, so they can develop old farm fields and we get the good stuff.”

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