Becca Bryan’s post about the Florida Panther NWR and interesting photo collage was the winning post for January. Becca explained “Why It Matters”:

The Florida Panther NWR matters to families of all kinds! Our native wildlife uses the refuge for more than just a refuge away from the busy roads and noisy humans. It is 26,000+ acres of safe, quiet space where family making and raising takes place.

  • Marsh rabbit eating leaves
  • crested caracara on a pine tree branch
  • Bobcats romping in a swamp
  • eastern Lubber grasshopper on a stick
  • gopher tortoise
  • sea turtle hatchlings

Established in 1989, Florida Panther National Wildlife is located within the heart of the Big Cypress Basin in Southwest Florida. It encompasses the northern reach of the Fakahatchee Strand, the largest cypress strand in the Big Cypress swamp. This Refuge protects core habitat for the endangered Florida panther and all native wildlife who roam within this top predator’s habitats.  

The Florida panther once roamed throughout the southeastern United States. Today, they are confined to only five percent of their historic range. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge provides critical habitat for these ghost cats, but more needs to be done to restore their population. on.

For hundreds of years, towering cypress trees up to 130 feet tall and 25 feet in circumference dominated the landscape of what is now Florida Panther NWR. In response to World War II, logging of cypress trees throughout the Big Cypress basin started in 1944. An average of 1,000,000 board feet per week were harvested from the swamp using temporary railroads. The logging operations started in what is now Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and moved north through the refuge area. By 1957, the last of the trees were harvested, except for those found in the Corkscrew Audubon Preserve. Slowly the cypress swamps have recovered as a new generation of cypress replaces the fallen giants.

The Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge is an amazing organization providing funding and many volunteer hours in support of the Refuge. The Friends work to safeguard the Refuge through education, outreach, advocacy, and being an active partner in Refuge projects. They are also focused on protecting the native flora and fauna found in the Florida Panther NWR and its partner refuge, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Friends’ projects center on restoring the Florida panther and its habitat within its historic range.

The Friends support education within the community by providing funding and volunteers for outreach efforts. This includes volunteering at over 30 events annually to educate the general public about the plight of the Florida panther and the importance of the Refuge, funding “Living with Panthers” brochures and motorist cards, participating in the annual Florida Panther Festival and funding a Refuge intern position for public outreach.

The Friends are also currently fundraising for the development of a new visitor center on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. This building will replace the current USFWS office and include exhibits and interactive learning opportunities for visitors. Along with the new visitor center, improvements will include interpretive and backcountry trails, ranger-led tours, and a wetland viewing platform. This project aims to raise public awareness about sustainable resources for endangered and threatened species, habitat connectivity, and water quality and flow.

The Friends’ advocacy campaigns focus on facilitating northward range expansion and protecting existing panther habitat in southwest Florida by advocating for acquisition and preservation of environmentally-sensitive lands, opposing the development of prime panther habitat north of the Florida Panther NWR, supporting the establishment of the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and joining the No Roads to Ruin Coalition to oppose the development of three new toll roads in the heart of panther territory. Collisions with vehicles are the #1 human cause of death for Florida panthers.

Sponsoring “Save the Panther Day” at the annual Refuge open house, guiding tours of the Refuge, funding interpretive signs on Refuge trail and hosting special events at the Refuge are just a few more ways the Friends support the Refuge.

You can see again why this Refuge like all the other National Wildlife Refuges truly “matters”. From protection of the beautiful Florida panther, outreach to the local community and educational opportunities for visitors, we see again how critical it is for Refuges like these to be protected and fully funded.

Congratulation Becca and the Friends of Florida Panther Refuge!