By Jeremy Cox
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Collier County's plan to preserve habitat for species on the brink of extinction, as proposed, might offer little help to the most endangered creature of them all.
A Florida panther expert's presentation today before a county advisory committee cast doubt on whether a habitat conservation plan would save the best natural areas.
That's because county commissioners in their instructions to the 11-member committee forbade the panel from administering the habitat plan in the Rural Lands Stewardship Area.
The area encompasses almost 200,000 acres of natural areas, farm fields and pastures in northeast Collier, excluding Immokalee.
Much of the best remaining habitat for panthers that isn't already protected falls inside the stewardship area, said Darrell Land of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The habitat conservation plan committee is trying to decide what areas can be developed -- where builders could essentially harm or kill protected critters -- and what areas should be set aside in return.
When asked what areas outside the stewardship area should be shielded from development for panthers, Land suggested North Belle Meade. He also recommended the area between Immokalee Road and Bonita Beach Road -- much of which lies in Lee County -- and areas around the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed.
There are about 80-100 panthers left in the wild, making them one of the most endangered species on the planet.