Tag Archives: US fish and wildlife

The Once Incredibly Long Reach of the Loxahatchee…

Excerpt Loxahatchee, 1839 Map of the Seat of War, Florida, Gen. Zachary Taylor
Page 48, Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades, McVoy 2011

“The Loxahatchee River,” Seminole for “River of Turtles.” What a beautiful name. A name, a river, I really know very little about…

Let’s learn…

First, we must note that that today’s Loxahatchee River, located just south of Stuart, is the antithesis of the St Lucie River. Whereas the St Lucie’s watershed has been immensely expanded, the Loxahatchee has been amputated. 

Over the next few days, I will be sharing about the Loxahatchee, a river that partially lies in Martin County. However the majority of this once great river lies in Palm Beach County, home to over 1.2 million people! 

Let’s go back….

First, we have to think about where the Loxahatchee originally flowed, before drainage. The Loxahatchee’s story is an incredible one as the Loxahatchee was connected to the Everglades.

Look at the image below from Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades, McVoy. Note the red drawn outline that represents the natural edge of the Everglades. Now look at the “arm,” the red formation in the upper right hand side of the image. This is what is called the Loxahatchee Slough, now gone, but today its remnant is Grassy Waters. This gigantic slough was indeed connected to the Everglades and in high water times the flow from the Everglades rose to swell inside the Loxahatchee Slough feeding the Loxahatchee River. Incredible! Today this gone. It, like everything else in South Florida has been channelized, drained, for agriculture and development. We drive over these now dry lands thinking this is the natural state. It is not, these lands were once a mosaic of the Everglades, our River of Grass.

Excerpt: SFWMD Facilities Map

So think about this for a moment.

The Loxahatchee  River “ran” from the coast, near Jupiter, to the Everglades. The river has been minimized, the slough is compartmentalized, but one remaining piece of this Loxahatchee Reach to the Everglades still alive is today’s Aurthur R. Marshal Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

This important refuge is easy to recognize as it is the “top oval,” in the images.

It is considered” the last northernmost portion of the unique Everglades. With over 221 square miles of habitat, the Loxahatchee Refuge is home to the American alligator and critically endangered Everglades snail kite. In any given year, as many as 257 specie son birds may use the Refuge’s diverse wetland habitats.”

These lands/waters are owned by the state through the South Florida Water Management District but are managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. You will find the most intact remaining tree islands here. Deer and other wildlife live on these tree islands and sometimes in the early morning as the sun rises, the deer stand on the levee while bicyclists go by!

To the South Florida Water Management District the refuge is known and functions as Water Conservation Area 1, just west of Parkland, Florida. 

When I drive south on Highway 95 from Stuart to the South Florida Water Management District, I often wonder what these lands will look like one hundred years from now. Quite a thought isn’t it? What do you think? Who knows what will happen; but let’s continue to get to know the Loxahatchee! 

Southern Path to the Loxahatchee River: Time Capsule Flight, Todd Thurlow: (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/history-of-the-loxahatchee-river/)

 

Local Accounts of the Florida Panther, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

The range of the Florida Panther used to include the Treasure Coast. (Public photo.)
The historic range of the Florida Panther included the Treasure Coast. (Public photo.)

When I was a kid in the 1960s and 70s growing up in Stuart, urban legend was that a large, male panther lived on Jupiter Island. Both local fisherman and doctors swore they had seen this panther swimming across the St Lucie Inlet to Seminole Shores, today’s Sailfish Point.

During my childhood, these stories resonated and inflamed my imagination, but  I, myself, never saw a panther…

Now that I am older, I am still fascinated with these captivating creatures eking out a life as an endangered species in a much changed Florida. Recently, I came upon information that helps support my childhood beliefs that until fairly recently, they lived right here in Stuart as I usually associate them with Florida’s west coast.

Let’s take a look…

This map from the state of Florida's "Multi-Species Recovery Plan," shows the historic distribution of the Florida Panther, 1999.
This map from the state of Florida’s “Multi-Species Recovery Plan,” shows the historic distribution of the Florida Panther, 1999.

As seen above, before Florida was “developed,” and the animal was over-hunted; its range included the entire state and far beyond. Today, as seen in the map below, their range has been greatly reduced and no longer includes the Treasure Coast. Sightings and unfortunate “road kills” are usually  in the -south-western part of the state.

Today's county distribution of the Florida panther since 1981, based on radio telemetry  data. (Multi -Species recovery plan, 1999.)
Today’s county distribution of the Florida panther since 1981, based on radio telemetry data. (Multi-species recovery plan, 1999.)

Panther habitat FWC/State of Florida.
Panther habitat FWC/State of Florida.

When I started asking my historian mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, if there were any accounts of panthers here, she shared a transcript by Rush Hughes of Mrs Ethel Porter taped in 1960. At this point, Mrs Porter was of very advanced age. She lived right here in Stuart in what we know as todays “Owl House,” as a pioneer beginning in the late 1800s until her death.  Her account of seeing a panther at her homestead along  the shore of the St Lucie River is quite entertaining, here is an excerpt:

Did you ever have any trouble with the Indians?

Oh no. No.

Did you ever have any experience with the wild animals?

Well yes. I had company from North Carolina and we heard something coming up the path, where the bank is now. It was crying like a child. And I said, “That cannot be a child, because there is no child anywhere around. It couldn’t be lost because there is no family near enough.” When it got almost opposite the house – it was in the days of lamps – I took a lamp and I went out on the porch and took a lamp and held it above my head and out of a clump of bushes came two great big eyes of fire and I screamed and when I did, I could hear it jumping. Then my husband came in and I told him about it and he said, “You know you have such fear down here that your imagination goes ahead of you.” But next morning we went down on the beach – we used to have beach before the canal – and there was a footprint of a panther that a number two tomato can could not cover.

My goodness – that was a big one!

Yes, but I didn’t mind that like I did the snakes…

In my option,  a woman’s knowledge of a #2 tomato can’s size in the late 1800s is about as solid as documentation gets!

Another sure-fire documentation is a photograph taken along the Indian River Lagoon area in around the 1870’s by Jupiter Lighthouse keeper, James A . Armour and/or Melvin Spencer.  This photograph is widely distributed and is now in the archives of the Historical Society of Palm Beach. The photograph shows a dead, 106 pound, 6 foot 8 inches panther, a sad trophy but reflective of the values of the era.

Shot panther 1870s, area of Jupiter Lighthouse. Photo,  Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Shot panther 1870s, area of Jupiter Lighthouse. Photo, Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

Today, thankfully, we protect these graceful and secretive creatures and appreciate their struggle to survive…

In closing, before you go to sleep at night, never think that the panthers only belong to Florida’s west coast; they belong here as well. After all, the St Lucie Indian River Lagoon, is really a “jungle….” 🙂

The beautiful Florida panther. (Public photo.)
The beautiful Florida panther. (Public photo.)

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Working today for the Florida panther: Florida Wildlife Corridor: (http://www.floridawildlifecorridor.org/about/)

US Fish and Wildlife Florida Panther Recovery Plan: (http://www.fws.gov/verobeach/MammalsPDFs/FinalizedFloridaPantherRecoveryPlan081218.pdf)

Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge: (http://www.fws.gov/floridapanther/panther_faq.html) 

Florida Wildlife Commission/panthers: (http://www.fws.gov/verobeach/MSRPPDFs/FloridaPanther.pdf)

Florida Wildlife Commission :/panther sightings: (https://public.myfwc.com/hsc/panthersightings/getlatlong.aspx)

Florida Wildlife Commission: Panther Net: (http://www.floridapanthernet.org)

Wikipedia/General information on Florida (Panther:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_panther)