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For Immediate Release, February 10, 2011

Contacts:  Michael Robinson, Center for Biological Diversity, (575) 534-0360
Christopher Spatz, Cougar Rewilding Foundation, (845) 658-9889
Stephen L. Williams, The Florida Panther Society, Inc., (386) 397-2945
Jim Ries, One More Generation, (678) 491-6222

Florida Panther Reintroduction to Okefenokee Needed for Recovery

Conservationists Push for Release of Endangered Panthers in Georgia and North Florida

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga.— Conservation groups today filed a scientific petition seeking the reintroduction of the critically endangered Florida panther into southern Georgia and northern Florida as a crucial step in the species’ recovery. The petition requests that the Interior Department issue a rule authorizing the release of panthers in and around the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, an area unoccupied by Florida panthers but part of their historic range. Reintroduction of Florida panthers into suitable habitat within the species’ historic range is called for in the Interior Department’s 2008 Florida panther recovery plan.

“For the Florida panther to have any chance at long-term survival it needs more than one population in South Florida,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, the primary author of the petition. “Reintroduction of Florida panthers will aid their recovery and help restore the natural balance in some of the ecosystems in which panthers lived for thousands of years.”

Florida panthers used to live throughout the Southeast, but currently the only breeding population consists of 100 to 120 animals in South Florida that are distributed across less than 5 percent of the species’ historic range. The recovery plan calls for protecting remaining occupied habitat and establishing two new populations of at least 240 animals each through reintroduction.

Scientists have identified the Greater Okefenokee Ecosystem in South Georgia and North Florida as the best habitat for a reintroduction of Florida panthers, with an abundance of deer and feral hogs for prey, and a top prospect for reintroduction. Panthers would aid regeneration of the region’s much-diminished longleaf pine forests through preying on feral hogs that eat the longleaf pine saplings and seed cones.

“The panther was once shepherd to the vast reaches of the vanishing longleaf pine ecosystem,” said Christopher Spatz, president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation. “May this day mark the beginning of the recovery of the forest by restoring its ancient guardian."

“Science, both biological and social, clearly indicates that recovery can be achieved,” said Stephen Williams, president of The Florida Panther Society, Inc. “The long-sought resolution to the future of the Florida panther is in its reintroduction and the recovery that will follow. We applaud all efforts by interested parties who care about the panther and the southeastern U.S. The American people have been unwavering in support of recovery of Puma concolor coryi for over 43 years. We ask the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and all state and federal authorities to move resolutely forward to fulfill their obligation.”

One More Generation of Fayetteville, Georgia, was founded by two elementary-age students, Carter Ries (now nine) and his sister Olivia (age eight). “Our network of children wishes to ensure that all endangered species survive at least one more generation and beyond,” said Jim Ries, father of Carter and Olivia. “To grant them that simple, unstinting wish, we believe Georgians can learn to safely share the wildest corners of our state with Florida panthers.”

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