By Suzanne Potter
SARASOTA, Fla. – The public is invited to weigh in on the future of the Florida panther at a meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission this afternoon in Sarasota.
Experts from the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife will be in attendance to urge the state to reconsider a recent policy statement, which recommends the agency shift resources to focus solely on the panther population below the Caloosahatchee River in South Florida.
Laurie Macdonald, Florida director of Defenders of Wildlife, says the agency should aim for at least three separate panther populations across the state.
"There has been a growing population of panthers in South Florida, but that's not recovery," she says. "One breeding population is not recovery. So now's not the time to back off."
The state's policy paper also suggested the panther's endangered status will be revisited. Macdonald says that would be premature.
"The panther's original range was throughout the southeastern United States," she says. "They ranged all the way from Arkansas into Florida. The only population now is in South Florida."
Ranchers have complained to state officials about panthers preying on livestock. Defenders of Wildlife promotes programs to help ranchers build predator-proof enclosures.
The public meeting will get underway at 1:30 p.m. at the Sarasota Hyatt. Audiofile.