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Story Tools

Date of Issue: January 30, 2008

Sandscript

Why can't we all get along in our natural world?

Cats - felines, not the stage production - have come to mind of late.

Roger Allen of the Gulfcoast Maritime Museum in Cortez mentioned that there appears to be at least one bobcat at the FISH Preserve. The parcel is about 100 acres of mostly natural wooded area which could indeed harbor a bobcat or two or more, and other wildlife as well.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the bobcat (Lynx rufus) “is equipped with razor-sharp claws, needle-like teeth and the strength to make good use of these weapons. The name, of course, is from the short, stub-like tail, approximately 5 inches long, which has a distinctive black tip.

“Bobcats vary in coloration, but are generally tawny-brown and spotted. Bobcats can measure up to 3 feet in length, including the tail, and weigh 15 to 30 pounds. Bobcats are excellent climbers.”

Females breed in late winter or early spring, producing up to four kits after a 60-day gestation period.

Bobcats feed on small birds, small mammals and an occasional small deer.

Bobcats are known to dwell in developed areas. In fact, there was a great deal of ink devoted to several bobcats that were seen frequently on Siesta Key several years ago.

First reports on Siesta were met with some skepticism. Hey, there’s a wooded tract in the middle of the key, but bobcats? On one of the most exclusive residential islands in Southwest Florida?

Then pictures started to show up in print. One cat. Two cats. One cat with a few kits. Oh, my.

Everybody apparently thinks it’s pretty cool to see a wild critter in a less-than-wild place, so all seems well. At least no one is missing their miniature poodle. So far.

Island cat tale

Anna Maria Island has its own historical cat tale, circa late 1960s.

Reports circulated of a black panther sighting on the Island. A big panther, lurking in the bushes and seen at twilight.

Don Moore jumped on the story for his publication, a former Islander newspaper. People were interviewed, traces of tracks of the big cat discovered and printed in the newspaper and the search ensued to track down the cat.

Jesse Ingram, a noted local outdoorsman, was enlisted to aid in the search and the story, which stretched out for weeks. Everyone claimed to have spotted the big feline, it seemed, only to have it disappear when authorities arrived.

Finally, someone called to report that the panther was under his house. Police responded, as did Jesse and Moore, who was armed with his trusty Rolliflex camera.

The pair crept to the house and peered beneath as armed officers surrounded the structure, ready for anything. Jesse crawled underneath while Moore snapped pictures.

Jesse crawled back out.

“Damn black cat,” he said as he stomped away.

It was a cat, indeed, but merely a large house cat.

So much for the Island’s big cat tale.

Foxy fun, though

There has also been a spate of fox sightings on the Island, although folks seem to be a bit mum about spotting the fox of late.

Seen mostly in Anna Maria City, the fox (foxes?) pretty much just ignore people and go about its (their?) business. We had a number of reports a few years ago, none of late, probably by people who enjoy the critter and don’t want any panic to ensue regarding its (their?) removal.

Let’s all play nice

Florida, especially Southwest Florida, is home to a bunch of critters. Notwithstanding the transients who come from a state that begins with a vowel, we’ve also got a lot of natives who vastly outlast our presence here on our peninsula.

It’s time we all get along.

Yes, the raccoons are a pest that makes a mess in our garbage, but they were here first. Ditto the rats and roaches, although the latter should be nuked back to the stone age as far as some of us are concerned.

The key to all this discussion is balance, and the University of Florida has offered some thoughts along those lines coming, from all places, halfway across the planet.

There apparently is a conflict between ecological systems in Thailand and business, specifically shrimp farms.

“Mangroves in coastal Thailand are the main protection against deadly flooding from tsunamis, so it might seem wise to protect them at all costs,” according to a UF report. “However, ripping out a few mangroves and replacing them with shrimp farms, an important local industry, doesn’t necessarily have to reduce the planets’ power to blunt tsunamis.

“And in that observation lies a fresh, quantitative approach to how policy makers can protect the environment and allow growth and development that improves local residents’ lives.”

According to Brian Silliman, a UF assistant professor, something called “ecosystem-based management” is the new trend in the marriage of environment and economics. “Contrasting traditional techniques that focus on single species, ecosystem-based management seeks to conserve not only species, but also habitats and the services they provide to humans by conserving entire ecosystems.”

Let’s jet back to Thailand for an example of the new trend.

Mangroves are good. They provide food and a habitat source for lots of critters, a barrier to erosion and tidal waves.

Mangroves are bad, though, for shrimp farmers, who want the wetland areas cleared so they can develop an industry that will feed not only their families but also the rest of the world.

The secret is balance.

After a bunch of data-crunching, Silliman and his team reached the conclusion, at least in Thailand and the mangrove/shrimp farm equation, that “small losses of between 10 and 20 percent of mangroves, where massive expanses of mangroves already exist, are outweighed by gains by shrimp farmers. In other words, as long as farmers don’t destroy too many of the plants, they can uproot some mangroves, build shrimp ponds and make money - and the remaining mangroves will still protect the shoreline from tsunami storm surges.”

Balance.

Sandscript factoid

The state of Florida has gone through a bunch of permutations of mangrove pruning in the past few decades. No trim. Trim at will Some trim. Don’t trim unless a licenced arborist or architect approves.

One of the fun state laws that was briefly enactedm called for all the cut mangrove parts to be dumped in the body of water where the tree grew. The measure was a boone to the trimmers - hey! I don’t have to haul anything away! - and was thought to be good for the environment.

Mangrove detritus, the leaves and bark and dead branches, are a huge food source for lots of critters. With that thought in mind, environmental regulators figured that any slashing of trees and subsequent dumping in the water would be a good thing.

Oops.

Seems that the half-life of a cut mangrove limb is about 15 years. We’re talking fossilization of branches in the water.

Eco-officials apparently missed the fact that “dead” and “cut” mangroves are vastly different.

That dump-the-stuff plan in the bays was quickly abolished by state officials.

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