The habitat of the Florida panther, above, is threatened by fracking, development and off-road vehicles.

Thinkstock/Robin Hamel

The habitat of the Florida panther, above, is threatened by fracking, development and off-road vehicles.

Oil Companies Eye Fracking in Florida Panther Habitat Refuge

Wildlife stewards are already busy defending Florida panther habitat against condo developments, off-road vehicles and other hazards. Yet another threat has surfaced, and its scope and breadth are only now becoming clear.

The Dan A. Hughes Co. of Beeville, Texas, has leased about 115,000 acres of mineral rights from Collier Resources, which owns 800,000-plus acres of mineral rights in southwest Florida, according to Matthew Schwartz, head of the South Florida Wildlands Association. The association was founded in 2010 to help protect wildlife habitat and public lands in the state’s southern portion, which includes the Everglades as well as Big Cypress National Preserve and other areas.

“For over 10,000 years the home of diverse groups of native Americans including the Calusa, Tequesta, Mayaimi and later the Seminole and Miccosukee in south Florida has seen waves of newcomers come and go. Spain, England, the United States, and the Confederate States, have all staked claims here,” the Wildlands Association says on its website. “In the modern era massive migrations from all directions have created a cultural melting pot of incredible richness and vitality.”

That richness and vitality are threatened by the specter of fracking, which various oil companies are proposing to do right at the edge of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. According to the Broward Palm Beach New Times, Schwartz has analyzed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection permits issued to the companies and mapped out just what they plan to do, and where. What he found was that not only is drilling imminent at the edge of the panther refuge but also that the overarching lease held by Hughes includes “large portions of the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW Lands), and even the famous Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with some of the last old-growth cypress in our state,” the Broward Palm Beach New Times reported. “The lease runs for five years and can be extended.”

And that’s not all. Two more leases are in the works, one of them not yet permitted. It’s a four-phase lease with Burnett Oil Co. out of Fort Worth, Texas, according to Schwartz, that would cover, eventually, 234,510 acres within Big Cypress National Reserve, the Florida panther’s main habitat.

Though panthers are having a resurgence throughout Turtle Island as a whole, the Florida panther is under duress, with only 100-160 of them left, according to the Sierra Club, which also notes that the animal is the state symbol.

RELATED: Cougar Repopulates Turtle Island

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a meeting on March 11 to discuss waste water from oil wells and the effect on drinking water, and South Florida residents are planning to attend and bring up those and other concerns. More information is available at the event’s Facebook page. An interview with Schwartz is at WMNF Community Radio in Florida.

Read Oil Companies Are Planning to Drill in Florida Panther Habitat in the Broward Palm Beach New Times.

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