Florida Panhandle (Apalachicola National Forest), © Julie Tew
© Julie Tew

Florida Panhandle

What We're Doing to Help

The Florida Panhandle is a top priority for Defenders’ efforts to protect imperiled wildlife populations and, wherever possible, restore them to their role in the ecosystem. 

Protecting a mosaic of public and private lands 

Our vision for the Florida Panhandle includes a network of connected habitat across northwest Florida. To help make this a reality, we work with a variety of stakeholders on land conservation, including federal, state and local officials, as well as private landowners. One important part of this work is our advocacy on behalf of Florida Forever, the state’s land acquisition program, which has been drastically underfunded in recent years. We are also part of a coalition of groups leading the campaign for the proposed state constitutional amendment, “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy,” which would secure funding for conservation area purchase, management and restoration. 

In addition to our direct outreach to local, state and federal offices, we work to empower concerned citizens to become activists for these issues as well. We are creating educational materials to help activists advocate for the purchase and restoration of essential habitat and linkages, particularly for endangered and vulnerable species, including areas for the reestablishment of the Florida panther; sea turtle nesting beaches; shorebird nesting, resting and foraging habitat; and critical habitat for beach mice. 

Planning for Wildlife

Communities and transportation departments both have plans for how they intend to build in the coming years. We help craft and advocate for plans that avoid destroying or fragmenting habitat thus decreasing wildlife collisions with vehicles, especially for imperiled species. Where possible, we also look for opportunities to restore connections between pieces of habitat, such as wildlife crossings, which provide safe passage for animals and people. 

Defenders also intends to conduct a transportation analysis for the region.  Engaging transportation experts, planners and wildlife professionals in proposing regional transportation recommendations, including identification of wildlife crossing needs, enables Defenders and our members to provide practical, science-based strategies for future transportation growth in the Panhandle, and also equip us to evaluate and oppose poorly-designed transportation projects. 

Bringing the Florida Panther Back Home

By reestablishing the Florida panther in the Apalachicola region, we can help rebalance the ecosystem, allowing the panther to fulfill its beneficial role as an apex predator. But before the panther can be fully reestablished, we need to do extensive outreach to people in local communities so that they will accept a large carnivore back into their region.  Increasing populations of both people and the two largest predators in the state (panthers and bears) has led to a growing number of conflicts.  Defenders is developing a comprehensive coexistence education and outreach program, working in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others to inform people about the practical ways they can avoid negative encounters with wildlife.  We conduct educational events, distribute educational materials to thousands of households, and assist property owners with funding and constructing predator-proof enclosures for livestock and pets. 

Following Through on Science

Defenders’ experts provide scientifically-based, solution-oriented input on the recovery plans developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. We engage members of the scientific community and the public to ensure that these important plans are sound, robust and implemented, holding agencies accountable for conservation and recovery actions of many imperiled species throughout Florida. 

Defenders serves as a member of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Teams and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Management Plan Technical Advisory Groups for several key species in Florida, including the manatee, panther and gopher tortoise.