Feds consider paying landowners to protect panther habitat

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering a program that would pay landowners to maintain land that can serve as the Florida panther’s habitat.

Under the program, landowners would be paid $22 per acre of cattle pastures and wooded scrub in the panther’s native Florida, Reuters reported. It would the first time such an incentive has been used in on such a large scale.

There are about 100 to 180 endangered Florida panthers in the wild now, triple the population from decades ago. But state officials say twice as many are needed to move the large cat off the endangered species list, Reuters said.

The FWS wants to start with a pilot program that would cover about 10 percent of the panther’s habitat that is privately owned, at a cost of $1.5 million over three years.

Conservation groups support the proposal as one of the few realistic options for increasing the panther’s options, but they say more needs to be done, according to Reuters.