WEST PALM BEACH -- South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board members discussed the conservation value of ranchland at their April 14 meeting.
Governing Board Member Jay Steinle said he recently toured a ranch which has some areas for cattle and some hunting leases.
“The wildlife that we saw on this ranch was phenomenal,” he said.
“Each time I go on a ranch tour, in every case I am reminded how these ranches and ranchers are partners with us in conservation, not just because it leaves the land undeveloped, but because of the wildlife and cleansing value,” he said.
Steinle said the ranch is adjacent to the panther refuge.
He said he always thought a single panther needs a large range but he learned that when the habitat is sufficient and the game plentiful, land can support more panthers.
He said there might have been more panthers on the ranch than there were on the refuge.
“The first thing the panthers go after are the hogs,” he said. “There are no hogs on this ranch.” Hogs are not native to Florida and the wild hogs damage the land, he added.
Next the panthers go after the deer, he continued. Panthers do sometimes kill cattle.
“Out west you hear about restitution for cattle killed by wolves,” he said. “We have it here. It’s like a fight to get it. We should be promoting these types of land.”
“Over one-third of our panthers are housed on private land, maybe more than that,” said SFWMD Governing Board Member Ron Bergeron. He said he is working with Senator Marco Rubio on a funding source to compensate ranchers who lose cattle to panthers.
Bergeron Everglades Foundation is funding an agreement with the ranchers to make sure any rancher who loses livestock to a panther is reimbursed, he explained.
He said it is important for Florida to preserve the wildlife corridor, which will stretch from the Panhandle to the Florida Keys. Ranches with conservation easements are an important part of the wildlife corridor.