The Florida panther and Hurricane Irma


Fact: Hurricane Irma severely disrupted Florida’s wildlife preserves.


September 19, 2017, 4:10 p.m. Pacific: I just found these pictures on the Everglades emergency management team’s Flickr site.

The damage to human infrastructure is tremendous, and no doubt the fragile ecosystem there has suffered. But Irma’s aftermath on nature there appears to be something a panther and its prey could survive.

September 16, 9:02 a.m.:  They did an overflight on Wednesday.  Reportedly, the Everglades mangrove forest, at least near the Snake River, is okay.  That is good news for panthers and their prey.  Lots of damage there, though.

The Everglades Visitor Center, per National Park Service 9/15 update.

Per the National Park Service Irma update last evening, heavy equipment arrived at the Gulf Coast yesterday to help with the Everglades cleanup.  They also say that assessments are ongoing at Big Cypress National Preserve.  No mention of wildlife yet, of course.

Original post:  This post was intended to be the usual brief fact about how well the rare Florida panther survived Hurricane Irma.

I figured that enough time has passed for people to have some idea of how these cats and other wildlife on the mainland fared.

I underestimated Irma’s impact on Florida.

First and foremost, as of September 12, the parks had accounted for all employees except in the Everglades National Park, where damage and power outages had made it impossible to confirm everybody there was okay. (Repanshek)

So the format here will be a live blog. I’ll check in with updates at the top of the post as I have been able to find them online (I’m in Oregon and don’t know anyone on the scene).

Don’t expect very many updates.  The focus of recovery efforts now, of course, is on people and infrastructure. It will take some time for conservationists to get any estimates of Irma’s effects on the mainland wildlife.

I suspect that the panthers and other critters out there did okay, but it would be nice to confirm it.

Here is what I have been able to find today:

    • Panthers aren’t listed here as Florida Key wildlife. Even with bridges around these days, it’s unlikely any of these cats were out there when Irma hit. Panthers live on the mainland, mainly south of the Coosahatchee River.
    • A long-term USGS employee told Tampa Bay News that in thirty years he has never noticed a change in panther movements from tropical weather. That’s encouraging!
    • Per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website, Florida panther major locations are in Collier, Glades and Lee counties, but the cats also have a presence in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
    • The key protected areas where you may see them are in Big Cypress National Preserve (no one could get in there as of September 12, per online reports I found), Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS says it is sending crews from Louisiana and Mississippi to open this up again), Fakahatchee State Park (reopened to the public at least for day use by the 13th, per online reports), Picayune Strand State Forest, and Everglades National Park (reportedly hit hard by Irma, with a foot of rain and strong winds).


The Picayune Strand website doesn’t seem to be working just now, but from what little I can see via Google, it looks like parts of it are open to the public.

The Naples Daily News has online updates on the situation in Collier County. I think President Trump is visiting Naples today.

The most complete information on things in Glades County that I could find online is the Glades County Emergency Management Facebook page.

The News-Press reports that Lee County is slowly getting back to normal.


Images:
Featured image: Florida panther by skeeze at Pixabay. Public domain.


Sources:
Repanshek, K. September 12, 2017. National Park Service assessing Hurricane Irma damage to parks in Florida, Caribbean. National Parks Traveler. https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2017/09/national-park-service-assessing-hurricane-irma-damage-parks-florida-caribbean Last accessed September 14, 2017.

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) updates post Irma: https://www.fws.gov/hurricane/irma/

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