Developer withdraws 100,000-acre Florida panther habitat conservation plan

Reporter: Lauren Leslie Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:
Florida Panther
Florida panther (Credit: CBS News)

A developer promised to set aside more than 100,000 acres for a panther preserve to give the endangered animals room to roam, but delays in the review process are why eastern Collier County property owners said they withdrew the habitat conservation plan.

Ultimately, it means there will be less government oversight for the project that will impact Florida panthers. 45,000 acres of land in eastern Collier County are currently set to be developed to aid the highly endangered Florida species.

Meredith Budd works with the Florida Wildlife Federation and explained some details to WINK News.

“That development is still moving forward unfortunately it’s now moving forward with less government oversight and with less guaranteed protections for panthers,” said Budd. Budd said that’s because a habitat conservation plan submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife was withdrawn from the federal review process.

Amber Crooks works with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and also shared some details with WINK News.

“The review of the HCP (Habitat Conservation Plan) by the federal government the US fish and wildlife service revealed that these projects should not go forward because they would result in jeopardizing the future existence of the Florida panther based on records that we have seen,” said Crooks.

Conservancy of Southwest Florida has opposed the Habitat Conservation Plan for a long time.

“We believe that the land owners may have withdrawn from the HCP process because of this negative finding by the federal agency,” said Crooks.

But the state could still approve, since a permit application was submitted Tuesday for Bellmar, a housing development.

Eastern Collier property owners say they plan to work with conservation partners to implement tenants of the plan.

“That’s comforting to know but it’s not required,” said Budd.

While conservancy groups have a difference of opinion on habitat conservation plans, what they agree on is protecting the Florida panther. WINK News was told that as few as 120 to 230 Florida panthers are left in the wild, so time is of the essence.

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