"Florida Panther" - "Puma concolor coryi" - Status and Trends: The State of Florida declared the panther a game species in 1950 and an endangered species in 1958. The FWS listed the panther as endangered in 1967 (32 FR 4001). Activities in the 1800s and early 1900s contributed to its need for listing. ... Habitat-level Recovery Actions: H1. Preserve and protect Florida panther habitat. The Florida Panther Habitat Preservation Plan (HPP) identified 374,868 ha of occupied and potential habitat considered essential to maintaining a minimum viable population of 50 breeding adult panthers in South Florida. Fifty-seven percent of these lands are classified as Priority 1 (highest quality and/or most frequently used) and 43 percent as Priority 2 (lower quality and/or less frequently used). The HPP also identified habitat threats, and the means by which habitat could be protected: land acquisition, conservation easements, exchanges, donations, voluntary management agreements, landowner incentives, and landowner disincentives. H1.1. Complete acquisition projects comprised of Priority 1 and Priority 2 habitat. Nearly 190,000 ha of priority panther habitat have been proposed for State (75 percent) or Federal (25 percent) acquisition. Thirty-three percent of these lands have been preserved using fee-simple acquisition and conservation easements. The remainder should be preserved in a timely manner. H1.2. Initiate new acquisition projects comprised of Priority 1 and Priority 2 habitat. The FWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) has initiated a proposal to expand the Florida Panther NWR (National Wildlife Refuge) in Collier County and Hendry County by about 150,000 ha. Other proposals are being developed. Appropriate agencies should continue to identify landowners interested in panther recovery from whom land and conservation easements may be purchased. H1.3. Complete public protection of Big Cypress Area of Critical State Concern. The Big Cypress Conservation Act of 1973 designated 347,228 ha of the 634,561 ha Big Cypress Watershed as an Area of Critical State Concern (ACSC). Today, 93 percent of the ACSC is in public ownership. The 7 percent remaining in private ownership, all Priority 1 habitat, extends from Florida Panther NWR north to Okaloacoochee Slough SF, serves as a large mammal corridor between Collier County and Hendry County, and should be protected. H1.4. Establish, restore, and maintain important corridors. Corridors are necessary for population expansion and for facilitating gene flow between subpopulations. The Caloosahatchee Ecoscape, added to the CARL (Conservation And Recreation Lands) acquisition list in 1998, is a 4,047 ha corridor connecting panther habitat in Glades County and Hendry County. Camp Keais strand links Florida Panther NWR with the CREW (Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, often referred to as SoCREW, or Southern CREW). A recent 20,695 ha conservation easement acquired by the SWFWMD (The South Florida Water Management District) could link panther habitat in DeSoto County and Glades County. The Florida Greenways Coordinating Council adopted in 1998 a five-year implementation plan for a statewide system of greenways and trails that could benefit the panther long-term. H2. Use landowner incentive programs to conserve, restore, and manage panther habitat. The USDA-NRCS (U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service) and FWS administer several landowner incentive programs capable of preserving Priority 1 and Priority 2 panther habitat on farms and ranches in South Florida. Each of the programs is briefly discussed below. Some examples of how the program can be used for panther recovery are given. H2.1. Environmental Conservation Acreage Reserve Program. The Environmental Conservation Acreage Reserve Program (ECARP) encompasses the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The purpose of these programs is to help farmers and ranchers conserve and enhance soil, water, and related natural resources, including grazing land, wetlands, and wildlife habitat. Program objectives are achieved primarily through short-term or perpetual retirement of marginal agricultural land and changes in land management practices. H2.1.1. Conservation Reserve Program. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) makes annual rental payments and pays 50 percent of the cost of eligible conservation practices implemented by the landowner. Two types of CRP are recognized. The Traditional CRP allows irregular, periodic enrollment of large acreages and can quickly provide measurable benefits to wildlife species requiring expanses of contiguous habitat. For example, traditional CRP should be used to establish tracts of pine flatwoods 250 ha or greater to reverse a historic pine flatwoods decline of 88 percent in central South Florida. Forest tracts 250 ha or larger are a constituent element of occupied panther range and pine flatwoods can account for about 30 percent of individual panther radio-locations. The Continuous CRP allows year-round enrollment of small acreages with an emphasis on strip-type water quality practices. The continuous CRP should be used to plant pine or hardwood buffers around isolated cypress domes or along cypress strands to provide cover for panthers, cover for panther prey, and to increase average forest patch size in a given area, thus reversing fragmentation. Trees planted in strips of sufficient width along ditches, canals, interior access roads or similar landscape features could serve as cover for panther prey and provide nominal travel corridors for the panther. H2.1.2. Wetlands Reserve Program. The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) pays farmers and ranchers to restore former and degraded wetlands. Restoration of forested wetlands would reverse forest declines and would be somewhat beneficial to the panther given its preference for forested habitats. Wetland restoration would also benefit panther prey, which can be found feeding in, or around the edge of, herbaceous wetlands. The options available include the following: (1) permanent easements, where the easement payment is generally 100 percent of the agricultural value or a predetermined area cap, and NRCS pays 100 percent of the restoration costs; (2) 30-year easements, where the easement payment is generally 75 percent of the agricultural value or a predetermined area cap, and NRCS pays 75 percent of the restoration costs; and (3) restoration cost-share agreements, where there is no easement payment but NRCS pays 75 percent of the restoration costs. The minimum duration for the agreement is 10 years. H2.1.3. Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides educational, technical, and financial assistance to help farmers and ranchers comply with State and Federal environmental laws. Fifty percent of the annual appropriation is allocated to livestock-related natural resource concerns and cattlemen owning land inhabited by the panther are ideal applicants. This program can be used to fence hardwood hammocks that have been degraded by mechanical manipulation or overgrazing. Hardwood hammocks can account for 30 to 40 percent of individual panther radio-locations and are the most productive white-tailed deer habitat. - DOI/USFWS MSRP (Multi-Species Recovery Plan http://www.fws.gov/southeast/vbpdfs/species/mammals/flpa.pdf (page 8 and 31-33 of 34)