NAPLES — Conservation groups called this afternoon for an expansion of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge across agricultural land and natural lands in eastern Collier County and Hendry County.
The plan calls for acquiring land or conservation easements across at least 50,000 acres, which could roughly triple the size of the 26,000 acre refuge along Interstate 75 and State Road 29 south of Immokalee.
Groups pushing the expansion are the Florida Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon of Florida and Collier County Audubon Society.
“It doesn’t take much imagination to see the wisdom of this acquisition in the future,” said Florida and Collier County Audubon Society policy advocate Brad Cornell.
Cornell said the money for the expansion could come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which could receive up to $900 million in congressional appropriations from offshore and oil and gas royalties.
One landowner described her family as being “very on board to consider having property included” in the expansion proposal.
“We’d certainly have to have a lot more information before we could decide anything,” said Liesa Priddy, managing member of the Sunniland Family Limited Partnership.
That would include price, how much land and how it could affect her family’s cattle ranching business south of Oil Well Road and east of State Road 29.
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