Officials at Big Cypress National Preserve, which offers one of the last stands for the endangered Florida panther, are crafting a management plan to guide hunting in the big cats' habitat.
Hunting already is allowed throughout most of the southern Florida preserve, which encompasses 720,000 acres, though a hunting management plan specific to the "Addition" lands needs to be prepared. The 147,000 acres of the Addition are located in the preserve's northeastern corner. The lands were acquired by the preserve in 1996, at which point hunting was prohibited pending a general management plan for the Addition.
That plan was adopted early this year. Part of it directed the park staff to work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to develop a hunting plan for the Addition that addresses access, hunting seasons, and specific regulations.
With an eye on developing such a management plan, preserve officials currently are taking public ideas on what the plan should contain.
There currently are three options on the table:
* Manage hunting in the Addition as it is managed elsewhere in the preserve;
* Ban hunting in the preserve;
* Rely on an "adaptive management plan" that would be reviewed annually and allow for changes in hunting regulations as needed.
Public meetings to review the current options are scheduled for later this month. One will be held August 30, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Edison State College in Naples, Florida, and another on August 31 at the Hyatt Regency Bonaventure Conference Center in Weston, Florida.
You also can submit comments electronically at this site. Public comment is being taken through September 16.
There currently is an effort under way to force Big Cypress officials to withdraw the GMP developed for the Addition lands. A number of groups announced back in March that they would sue the Park Service over the plan, which they said was detrimental to various species, including the Florida panther.
Among the impacts that the Park Service failed to even analyze was ORV traffic and motorized hunting that will significantly diminish available prey for the predatory cat, the groups maintain.
“The National Park Service is well aware of the critical importance of these lands for numerous threatened and endangered plants and animals in south Florida,” Matthew Schwartz of South Florida Wildlands Association said that the time. “The agency could and should have chosen a course of action which puts protection of irreplaceable natural resources above motorized recreation.”
If that lawsuit is successful, it could postpone the current effort to develop a hunting plan for the Addition.