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Resilient Habitats: Ecosystems

Greater Everglades

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Florida Panther (Puma concolor)

The Florida Panther, a solitary hunter and strict carnivore, preys on white-tailed deer, wild hogs, raccoons, armadillos, rodents-even an occasional alligator!

With such a diverse diet, you might think the panther would be thriving. Yet because of habitat loss, now compounded by climate disruption, fewer than 100 of the magnificent cats remain in Florida's Everglades, the animal's only home.

Why? Because the panther needs large expanses of wild territory to maintain a viable population, and this habitat is dwindling. Historically, the main threats to the Everglades have been attempts to drain it, diversion of fresh water to cities, construction of canals, levees, and water-control devices, and sprawling urban areas. Now, climate disruption has been added to the list.

Widely known as the "River of Grass," the Everglades is a vast sheet of slow-moving water, rarely more than a few feet deep but more than 60 miles wide, that glides through saw-grass marshes, meanders around pine islands, and creeps through mangrove and cypress swamps on its 100-mile journey from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.

A World Heritage site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and one of only three areas to be designated a Wetland of International Importance, the Everglades are home to an astounding array of wildlife, from alligators to bald eagles to black bears. But the Florida Panther, arguably the region's most charismatic species, is also the most imperiled. Florida's official state animal now occupies a mere 5 percent of its historic range, and its survival depends on our success in protecting and restoring the Everglades.

Changes in rainfall patterns are altering the rate at which the ecosystem is recharged with water, making it drier and more prone to wildfires. Seasonal shifts in the length of wet and dry periods throw off the rhythms of many animals-some bird species are already shifting their migration times. Rising sea levels will flood freshwater wetlands, allowing salt-tolerant plants to move in and causing a decline in animal species that rely on the present vegetation. As the panther's prey becomes ever-more scarce, so, too, will the panther. And in this case, there is no margin for error.

The Sierra Club is working to:

  • Complete the state purchase of 70,000 acres of U.S. Sugar lands for wetlands restoration
  • Gain critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther
  • Secure a decision by the Department of Interior to put on stilts 7 critical miles of the Tamiami Trail, the trans-Florida highway connecting Tampa and Miami
  • Craft a revised State Wildlife Action Plan that embraces the Sierra Club's criteria for resilient habitats protection, including a science-based blueprint for coordinated management of the Everglades across jurisdictional boundaries.

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