First it was oil companies eyeing fracking potential in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and now it’s the Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL), which is pondering a new power plant in prime habitat for the endangered animal.
The power company owns a total of 7,801 acres, according to The Palm Beach Post. The Seminole tribe is in court fighting the FPL’s attempts to build a plant on this land, which is just north of the tribe’s Big Cypress Reservation. The tribe sued the FPL and Hendry County in 2011, after 3,109 acres were rezoned to allow the plant, which would be powered by natural gas, the newspaper said. The matter has been in contention ever since, part of a malpractice lawsuit against one of the state’s largest law firms related to the deal, The Palm Beach Post reported.
There are only 100 to 160 Florida panthers remaining, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service—a sad statistic given that the species once roamed the entire southeastern United States.
For their part the Seminoles are mandated by their U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service obligations to safeguard the panther and its habitat.
“The Florida panther is one of the most imperiled mammals in the United States,” the tribe notes in a brochure on the animal. “It has been federally listed as endangered since 1973 under the Endangered Species Act. It is also protected under the Wildlife Code of FL, and the FL Panther Act of 1978. Habitat loss and fragmentation are severe threats to the panther in Florida.”
In accordance with its obligations under the federal Endangered Species Act, the tribe has developed a Florida panther protection and education plan that trains construction crews; has biologists or other qualified observers on hand to send to sites where a panther is spotted, for verification of the sighting, and is under strict instructions to cease construction activity when one of the big cats is spotted, and to wait until the animal leaves on its own.
Aside from further fragmentation of panther habitat, there are the questions of water availability—the plant could use as much as 22 million gallons of water a day, which could impair Seminole agricultural operations—and infringement on Seminole ways of life, The Palm Beach Post said.
"The main objection is that it is proposed to be located a thousand or so feet north of the Big Cypress Reservation,” the tribe’s attorney, Andrew Baumann, told the newspaper. “The ability to see the night sky and the stars and to live in the natural environment out there in Hendry County is very important to the Seminole tribe for their cultural and traditional practices.”