Population growth affects panthers’ survival

06/27/2014 7:19 PM

06/27/2014 7:20 PM

Re the June 19 story Experts: Florida panther population is rising: The problem that pushed Florida panthers to the brink of extinction is the same problem that threatens their recovery today: human population growth and development.

Florida’s panther population may have grown from a few dozen to over a hundred since the 1970s, but in that same time period, the state’s human population exploded from 6.8 million to 19.6 million people. Florida is expected to surpass New York as the third most populous state this year. So even as their numbers increase, the successful recovery of Florida panthers is on a collision course with human population growth. The species that once ranged throughout the southeastern United States clings to life in a fraction of its former range, its habitat so fragmented by development that road kill is a major threat. In 2012, a record high of 19 panthers were killed by vehicles.

With limited wild habitat remaining in the state, further increases in the Florida panther population means more encounters with people, pets and livestock. The solution is to address human population growth and development. We need to make more room for panthers, become more educated on how to live in landscapes shared with large animals and help them get into bigger, wilder habitat with fewer roads.

Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director, Center for Biological Diversity, Tucson, Ariz.

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