A large and continuous piece of land critical for wildlife passage and the natural recovery of the Florida panther was purchased and protected by a collaborative public and private partnership in an outstanding effort to accomplish species conservation.
The conservation easements established on the 1,278-acre American Prime property along the Caloosahatchee River in Glades County is a key natural landscape through which Florida panthers can disperse from habitats farther south. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Editor’s Note: Florida panther B-roll video is available on the MyFWCsocial YouTube Channel at: https://www.youtube.com/user/MyFWCsocial
Other related materials such as an aerial photo of the American Prime property, generic Florida panther photographs and a photograph of the female Florida panther and her kittens recently documented near the property can be viewed and downloaded at these sites: ¬¬
Senior Leader Quotes
Shelly Lakly, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida: “To prevent extinction the panther population must grow, yet the current habitat south of the Caloosahatchee River is at maximum capacity. That’s why buying this land -- the land known to be the route out of south Florida -- was so critical. It opens up a future. The most at-risk property in a dwindling panther corridor was purchased right before foreclosure. It would have been extremely difficult to protect this critical panther corridor if this property was lost.”
Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service: “NRCS is proud to be a part of this cooperative effort that will restore vital wetlands and protect critical habitat for the Florida panther forever. These lands represent an extraordinary expansion of habitat and we are grateful for the collaborative work of The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners. By working together, we can put conservation on the ground at a rate none of us could achieve alone.”
Mark Musaus, Southeast Deputy Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “Securing this property is a key event in preserving and enhancing wildlife corridors and our efforts to recover the Florida panther. It also provides benefits for the ‘threatened’ crested caracara and ‘endangered’ wood stork.”
David Houghton, Senior Vice-President for Conservation Programs at the National Wildlife Refuge Association: “Seldom can a single accomplishment have such a profound conservation impact. It took years of persistence by a broad spectrum of agencies, organizations and individuals to bring us to this conservation victory that will leave a lasting conservation legacy.”
Jeff Trandahl, CEO and Executive Director, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: “Conserving important wildlife habitat is the goal of the Acres for America Program. Acquiring this parcel directly benefits one of Florida’s most iconic native species. We’re very pleased to support this project.”
Jennifer May-Brust, Walmart Vice President and General Counsel of Realty: “Walmart has been involved in this program since 2005 and one of our key goals has been to identify lands that will create corridors for endangered species. It is inspiring to see success stories like the Florida panther and Walmart remains committed to continuing to protect similar critical habitats.”
Colonel Alfred Pantano, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District: "By relocating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' easements, we will preserve this critical panther habitat crossing and allow the current population to expand up into the Kissimmee River watershed. I'd like to applaud the Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Wildlife Refuge Association, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, notably Paul Souza, and the Corps' Karl Nixon, for making this dream a reality. We look forward to continuing this collaborative effort to conserve property that is critical for providing Florida Panther crossing habitat."
Principal of the Lone Ranger LLC, buyer of the property: “I’m pleased to be able to help facilitate the long-term plans of The Nature Conservancy and partners to protect this portion of the wildlife corridor.”
Geoff Rich, Nature Conservancy Attorney: “Everyone was so motivated by the importance of protecting this site. It resulted in a level of cooperation I haven’t experienced before. A multitude of hurdles were overcome.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
US Fish and Wildlife Service
The Nature Conservancy in Florida
Natural Resources Conservation Service