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Groundbreaking Grant Boosts Florida Panther Conservation

St. Petersburg (February 12, 2024) – The quest to safeguard the Florida panther recently received a significant boost from a $1.5 million National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant. This vital funding from the 2023 America the Beautiful Challenge is a game-changer for the endangered Florida panther, supporting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida’s (FWFF) innovative project to enhance and conserve essential habitat.

“The America the Beautiful Challenge supports an amazing and diverse set of conservation and restoration projects across the nation,” said Rachel Dawson, director of national programs at NFWF. “This project from FWC and FWFF will make a significant impact for the future of the Florida panther by working with willing landowners to preserve and improve habitat that is essential to the long-term survival of this iconic species.”

The Florida panther is an icon of wild Florida, but it faces several challenges in its conservation, namely habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation. Additionally, collisions with vehicles are a significant danger as growing road networks further intersect their territory. Florida panther recovery will require the current panther population to expand beyond southwest Florida, necessitating public and private partnerships to conserve panther habitat, wildlife corridors and community support.

“Protecting Florida panther habitat is essential to the recovery of this endangered species,” said Jennifer Goff, deputy director of the FWC’s division of habitat and species conservation. “FWC recognizes the critical role private lands play in this process, and we look forward to partnering with landowners to provide high-quality habitat that will secure a healthy future for the Florida panther.”

Launching this summer, the pilot project will employ a pioneering approach to address panther habitat threats: enlisting landowners, from ranchers to tribes, in conservation by offering financial incentives for the preservation and improvement of habitat. By uniting these diverse landowners across southern and central Florida, the project aspires to create comprehensive and sustainable corridors for panthers to expand north of the Caloosahatchee River, a main objective of conservation efforts for decades. FWC has also received funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to launch a complementary project this spring focused on private landowners south of the river.

Once the pilot phase is complete, an open application period will be announced for all interested landowners who wish to apply to the program. The basic eligibility criteria consist of a minimum of 500 acres of panther habitat, presence of both native forested cover and open areas and a maximum 25 percent cover of invasive plants.

“The success of this project is expected to serve as a model for similar conservation efforts nationwide,” said Andrew Walker, president & CEO of FWFF. “We believe this initiative will not only benefit the Florida panther but also serve as a blueprint for future wildlife conservation projects. We are committed to ensuring the Florida panther calls the sunshine state home for generations.”

Funding for this program comes from the America the Beautiful Challenge, which is a partnership between the Department of the Interior (via the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Native Americans in Philanthropy and NFWF. The competitive grant awards were made possible with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, other federal conservation programs and private sources.

About the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida

The Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other public and private partners to conserve Florida’s native animals and plants and the lands and waters they need to survive. Operating as a statewide community foundation for conservation, the Foundation has raised and donated more than $71 million to conserve nature and our outdoor heritage. More information can be found at wildlifeflorida.org

About the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The mission of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people. For more information on the FWC’s Florida panther program, please visit MyFWC.com/Panther.

About National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate, foundation and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 6,000 organizations and generated a total conservation impact of $8.1 billion. NFWF is an equal opportunity provider. Learn more at nfwf.org

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