Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Florida Purchases Land For Panthers

Parcel Of Glades County Land Acquired For Panther Protection
PORT LABELLE, FL. -- A large and continuous piece of land critical for wildlife passage and the natural recovery of the Florida panther was purchased on the 1,278-acre American Prime property along the Caloosahatchee River in Glades County, just east of the Port LaBelle community. The easement, along the southern shore of the Calosahatchee River is a key natural landscape through which Florida panthers can disperse from habitats farther south.

(Video: Florida Panther and kittens - courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission)

This acquisition will encourage the natural recovery of the Florida panther population by providing habitat where animals can den and stalk prey, and migrate from southern Florida to areas north of the river. Other species will benefit as well. 

The new owner, Lone Ranger LLC, will utilize the property in accordance with the conservation easements secured in the transaction. The Nature Conservancy and NRCS will manage the easements.

Lone Ranger is owned by Dwayne A. House, a prominent land owner in Hendry county. House has an office in Miami and numerous large land holding near the panther habitat parcel.

This acquisition required a sequence of events involving multiple agencies and was accomplished just in time to prevent the land from going to foreclosure auction. The land parcel was slated for a housing  community between the river and State Road 80 which never got off the ground.

Protecting this land was made possible through the cooperative efforts of several partners including The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Walmart, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others. 

A portion of the protected land will continue in the rich ranching heritage of South Florida and another portion will have its wetlands restored to enhance wildlife habitat.

The purchase was covered by approximately $2 million from TNC in private philanthropy, and $1.5 million each from the USFWS and the private entity that purchased the property encumbered by conservation easements. NRCS provided $1.5 million to purchase a conservation easement on 718 acres of the property. 

Another $200,000 was provided through Acres for America, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Walmart.

The purchase appears to be about a $4,000 per acre price for primarily open pasture land and the strip along the river. (Map)

A female Florida panther and her kittens recently were seen and photographed along a trail in an area less than 3 miles from the Caloosahatchee River near the recently protected American Prime property in Glades County, Fla. This is the first documented evidenece of a female Florida panther north of OK Slough State Forest since Florida panther research began in 1973. 

TNC collected the funding from the various sources and used those funds to buy the property. TNC also managed the transaction to closing and transferred the property to a private entity subject to a Wetland Reserve Program easement held by NRCS and conservation easements reserved by TNC over the balance of the property.

Through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) conservation easement, NRCS purchased the development rights to the property, saving the land from any future urban development. Completion of the restoration project will bring back the natural functions of the wetland to recharge groundwater, reduce flooding and protect biological diversity. The WRP program provides advice and funding to help landowners restore wetlands, establish long-term conservation actions and improve wildlife habitat on the land.
In addition to providing funds through the Recovery Land Acquisition Program, the USFWS provided technical assistance regarding the Florida panther and other federally listed species.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped facilitate this transaction by relocating two 50-acre disposal easements along the waterfront of the American Prime property.

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