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Miami, Florida
I'm a journalist and this blog has a few of my feature stories that have been produced for radio, print or the web. Follow: @PatSagastume

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fate of Endangered Panthers

ENVIRONMENT

FATEOFENDANGEREDPANTHERFACESTERRITORIAL,FINANCIALOBSTACLES

JOE RAEDLE/GETTY IMAGES
Less than 200 remain as ranchers, conservationists, state and federal officials debate recovery
Until the late 1800s, the endangered panther was a common cat that roamed eight states, from Arkansas to Florida. But ranching, farming and suburban sprawl chewed up the territory and now it leaves only the rarest paw prints in what remains of the last vestiges of its historical homeland in Florida. Biologists estimate top panther populations at 160, but the nocturnal cats are elusive and the projections are mere estimates based on how many cats appear in smaller areas.
And while the iconic feline’s territory shrinks, efforts to increase its numbers now involve state and federal agencies, environmentalists, ranchers, farmers, oil companies, would-be big-box stores, and cold, hard cash.
The heart of panther territory occupies nearly 25,000 acres of public and private lands in southwest Florida — not enough territory for the cats to expand their numbers. Panthers need space: males up to 150 square miles to roam and hunt, females up to 100. A full panther recovery from endangered to healthy populations requires three groups with about 240 cats spread anywhere within its old hunting grounds, and that doesn’t appear to be happening soon.
“Are we close to reaching the first population? I’d say were several years from that,” said Kevin Godsea, manager of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
Listed as critically endangered since 1973, the recovery of this large, tan nocturnal cat is significant for its status as an umbrella species — in other words, saving the cat also ensures protection for the land and many other species that live in its natural territory.
The panther’s future depends on many factors, but the real issue hinges on whether female cats can be lured to expand their range beyond south-central Florida to establish a breeding population. Wildlife officials want the panthers to rely on rural crossways, or “corridors,” to reach the northern side of the Caloosahatchee River. But for cattle ranchers with livestock in the path of the large, predatory carnivore, keeping the land in its pastoral condition while panthers gobble up cattle is not a sound business plan.
A couple of years ago, Aliese Priddy, a third-generation cattle rancher whose property covers 9,000 acres in the heart of panther territory, noticed some of her prized heritage cattle were missing.
“I used to check on them every day and it was breaking my heart because I couldn’t find them,” she recalled. “They were more like pets to me that I wouldn’t sell.”
Last year, more cattle went missing. Priddy estimates a loss of 6 percent of her herd is due to panther predation. 
“We can’t afford to lose cattle and stay in business,” Priddy said.

Developing concerns

The financial question is a complicated one as ranchers and farmers seek compensation for lost livestock or incentives for keeping their land undeveloped.
For her part, Priddy said she has no plans to shutter her family’s ranching or to subdivide her property, but there are no assurances other large private landholders won’t be tempted.
“My biggest fear is somewhere down the road, the agriculture operations on private land — either cattle ranching or row crops or citrus — may not be profitable for those land owners, so they may need to divest and look for more urbanized development,” said Darrell Land, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and a long-time panther expert. “When agricultural areas start becoming golf courses, Super Targets and Walmarts, then it really becomes a loss for the panther.”
As development opportunities come up, wildlife officials are trying to secure cooperation from large corporate farmers and ranchers to maintain as much of their property in as rural condition as possible for the good of the panthers. 
“We want to find a way to ensure that private agricultural lands stay undeveloped,” Godsea said, “but that means finding financial incentives for famers not to develop their land and cattle ranchers not to give up their lifestyle.”

Further complications

In the past, discussions about compensation centered on how landowners could attain certainty for a level of development while still preserving the condition of the land for panthers. Further complicating the picture now is potential oil exploration.
One of the largest private landholders in Florida is Barron Collier Companies, which has agricultural holdings that span nearly 80,000 acres. The company also owns 800,000 acres of mineral and gas rights, which in recent years has become more attractive to oil companies. As the price of oil began climbing a few years ago, companies started applying for leases for oil exploration in panther territory.
Mickey Gardan of Preserve Our Paradise, a group of residents from the Golden Gate Estates community, protested a proposed site of an oil injection well that would be located near her neighborhood and one mile from Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.  
“If they do that, the operations would require activity 24/7, which would totally intrude on the panther’s nocturnal habits,” she said. “But, more importantly, it could harm our underground water supply.”
But Land, the FWC panther expert and a resident of Golden Gate Estates, said he thinks the panther concern is misplaced. 
“Golden Gate was platted out in the ’60s. If you go in and put in thousands and thousands of roads in panther territory, then that is more damaging than the proposed well drilling site, which may be over 100 acres of already cleared parcel,” Land said. “It doesn’t mean we’re supporting the oil well, we’re saying it’s not a panther issue and that there may be water quality issues that are more important.”
The discussion about whether oil exploration in southwest Florida is safe for panthers and the public remains a matter of debate. For now, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has postponed a decision to permit a Texas oil company, Dan A. Hughes, permission to drill a wastewater disposal well in the area.  It could be up to 90 days before the EPA reviews all the public comments and makes a final decision.
Meanwhile, a compensation plan for public landholders is still in the works but the discussion has been kept quiet. In late January, members of the Florida Panther Recovery Implementation Team (FPRIT) met in closed-door sessions to discuss the future of how to expand the panthers into central Florida. This included representatives from five states, federal officials, Barron Collier Companies, and an environmental group.
A public meeting is scheduled May 22, but so far no one is saying whether funds will be available to compensate private landowners.
Laurie MacDonald, the Florida program director for the conservation lobbying group Defenders of Wildlife and a FPRIT team member, said talks are moving along but there is still a lot of groundwork to cover.
“I heard compensation could come from a new farm bill,” Priddy said, “but it should not be the state of Florida to pay for it.”http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/3/31/fate-of-endangeredpantherfacesterritorialfinancialobstacles.html

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Outdated Canals Too Weak for Sea Level Rise





It’s been more than half a century since flood controls structures such as dams and canals were constructed throughout Florida. Now with the chilling impact of sea level rise on the horizon, many of these structures are fragile barriers to keep flood waters and tidal surge safely away.  In this report, we hear how the ocean is slowly seeping past our man-made barriers, below and above ground.
http://wlrn.org/post/outdated-miami-canals-too-weak-sea-level-rise

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

An Everglades Guava "Lava" Cake Tradition




Just like the Key lime pie is an iconic dessert from  the Florida Keys, some local southerners claim the guava cake and some form of it - is a mainstay everglades favorite.  The guava’s name, which comes from the Greek, literally translates to mean edible fruit.

But despite its gastronomical attributes, you would be surprised to learn that the common guava, is listed  as an Invasive species…


I traveled to edge of the everglades to see how one town is not likely to condemn this tasty fruit.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Everglades Stone Crabbers Pray For Better Season



All summer, stone crab crews  have been mending their traps and preparing their boats- waiting for the start of the stone crab season. With the opening of the season just days  away ( Oct 15)  the economic future of the industry will  hinge on how bountiful the catch is for Monroe, Lee and Collier counties. It’s these three areas that provide the bulk of the two to three million pounds of stone crab landings in Florida each year.

But last year, the going was rough for a lot of the crabbers.  I went to Everglades City for the Blessing of the Stone Crab Fleet as the town prepares for the new season.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

N.Miami Beach Urges State Restate Vote for Former Felons

In a symbolic act, destined to send a message to the Florida legislature, North Miami Beach passed a resolution that calls for the automatic voting rights restoration for returning citizens that have been incarcerated.

“ It’s significant that the first city to pass this in Florida had such a diverse council,” said Desmond Meade, President of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC). The FRRC represents more than 60 nonpartisan local, state and national community organizations on criminal justice issues.

Link to Miami Herald article published Oct. 3, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

N. Miami Beach Cuts Pensions For Cops


NORTH MIAMI BEACH

North Miami Beach cuts pensions for cops

SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD

The North Miami Beach City Council imposed new contract terms on the city’s police union on Tuesday, after management and labor hit an impasse in negotiations.
Among the conditions imposed in the commission’s unanimous decision:

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/09/19/3637767/north-miami-beach-cuts-pensions.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Injured Vets Dive to Save Sharks

Here's the link to this story on NPR.  I have included it with the story below

which aired on the local station because you can see more beautiful pictures as well.

http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/09/17/operation-blue-pride





Photo Courtesy Operation: Blue Pride
Former Army Sergeant Chris Maddeford dives Shark Canyon off West Palm Beach.


Courtesy Operation: Blue Pride 
Former Sergeant Stephen Wayne Jackel, Jr., attains buoyancy while re-learning how to dive as a double amputee. 

The Dept of Veterans affairs lists over 2 million veterans who have received treatment for mental health and PTSD related injuries since 2011. 

Until fall, veterans from across the country, are descending off the shores of West Palm Beach and it’s  for one reason: to build a new army.

But these new recruits come from a band of unlikely soldiers. In this story we find how some soldiers are fighting the good fight in shark-infested waters. 


Here's the print version of this article I wrote for the Miami Herald.
http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/13/3558577/operation-ocean.html

http://wlrn.org/post/veterans-build-new-army-divers-shark-infested-waters