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Scott, Cabinet Pony Up Another $1.5 Million For Panther Habitat

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Governor Rick Scott and the Cabinet are willing to spend another $1.5 million to preserve key panther habitat after the federal government pulled out of the deal at the last minute.

The money comes on top of the $3.7 million Scott and the Cabinet approved in September.

At the time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service was a willing partner. But the feds walked away when they learned the conservation easement didn’t include mineral rights.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam acknowledges oil companies could potentially use offsite rigs and horizontal drilling to extract oil from beneath the property. But he says the easement is still a good deal because it bans development.

“It would all still be subject to state permit. It is not a carte blanche by any stretch. To my knowledge, all of the environmental groups who stood up, continue to support the state purchasing the easement.”

The deal covers 1,600 acres of prime panther habitat in Eastern Collier County as part of the JB Ranch.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.