Grove Conservation Easement Expands Panther Habitat

Daniel CooperFlorida, Land

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Florida have purchased a conservation easement at G Road Grove, a citrus grove and tree nursery in Florida panther habitat.  

Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

G Road Grove expands the protected area within the Florida Panther Dispersal Zone, a 30,000-acre corridor in Hendry and Glades counties. The corridor helps connect the panthers’ current breeding population in areas south of the Caloosahatchee River to suitable habitat north of the river.

With this conservation easement, TNC and USDA NRCS are creating and supporting large areas for wildlife to feed, breed and roam.

Florida panthers rely on a network of protected, connected public and private lands to hunt and breed. They use the lands as safe movement pathways and sources of food and water.

“Florida panthers could be on the brink of extinction, surviving on less than 5% of their historic range,” said Wendy Mathews, senior conservation projects manager with TNC. “But by working with state and federal partners and private landowners to protect land, we can give panthers a chance at recovery.”

The Florida panther population declined due to a loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation and human activities. State and federal agencies have stepped in to help manage the population, which mainly breeds in available habitat south of the Caloosahatchee River in Southwest Florida. Successful management and land protection efforts have helped the population recover to approximately 200 panthers.

Along with large swaths of protected land, Florida panthers need reliable food sources. Agricultural lands are home to prey species including white-tailed deer, rabbits and raccoons. One of the panthers’ favorite prey species is non-native, invasive feral hogs. TNC and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have found evidence of non-native, invasive feral hogs at G Road Grove. Feral hogs typically travel in groups and can destroy acres of land in a single night as they forage for acorns, palmetto berries, small bugs and other food. The best way to manage the hogs is through their predators — Florida panthers.

Non-native, invasive wildlife and plant species damage habitats that native Florida species need, taking up valuable food, space and water resources and causing an imbalance to natural systems. The landowner of G Road Grove plans to work on controlling non-native, invasive plants on the property with the help of USDA NRCS cost-share programs.

Sara May, agricultural land easement coordinator for USDA NRCS in Florida, said the citrus trees at G Road Grove provide protected, unobstructed travel routes that are critical to the Florida panther. “Conservation easements protect land from future development while also allowing land management activities and uses, such as agricultural activities, to continue on the property,” May said. “With a conservation easement, we permanently protect G Road Grove’s agricultural uses and natural habitats.”


Share this Post

Sponsored Content