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Fish and Wildlife Commission considers fate of panther

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission proposed focusing on controlling panther populations and coexistence.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission proposed focusing on controlling panther populations and coexistence.
Published Jun. 24, 2015

Florida's favorite feline may be handled differently in the future.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considered a draft plan to alter conservation efforts for the Florida panther on Tuesday. After hours of public comments, the seven-member board delayed a vote until September.

The proposal would change how the FWC protects the endangered animal by focusing conservation efforts more on controlling the growth of the panther population and addressing lost livestock.

Commissioners should "focus management efforts on maintaining the population at a sustainable level and appropriate coexistence with people," a draft report stated.

The difficulty of tracking panthers in the wild led to debate among speakers over the cats' population on public and private lands.

Commissioner Richard Bergeron said he believed there are as many panthers on private land as there are on public land.

Despite comments from visitors like Jennifer Leon, who said the proposed plan sounded like the first step towards legalized panther hunting, Hanas was adamant that the FWC was not advocating legalized panther hunting. Instead, he said, the agency was trying to find "the best way to accommodate a species that every one of us want to see perpetuated."

FWC commissioner and draft plan co-author Aliese Priddy, a rancher, said the draft did not call for the removal of the Florida panther from the endangered species list, and instead was aimed at future planning.

"We have to look at where do we go from here, and what is the next step," Priddy said. "We've made a lot of strides. We have a lot of panthers."

Shaker Samman can be reached at ssamman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow @shakersamman.