Ricky Pires Director,
“Wings of Hope” Program
The “Wings of Hope” program is an integral part of the FGCU Environmental Humanities curriculum and service learning requirement. University students are introduced to native Southwest Florida wildlife, their habitats, and water conservation. They bring this knowledge to students in 4th & 5th grade with science-based environmental education programs. Elementary school students are bussed to FGCU for the program - both public and private schools in Collier and Lee Counties.
Our Board of Advisor, and dear friend, Nancy Payton was joyous May 22nd when the Nancy Payton Preserve in Collier County was finally open to the public. This 76 acre plot of land was unanimously named after her in recognition of all of her hard work on behalf of native wildlife including the endangered Florida Panther.
The property, located at 1540 Blue Sage Drive in rural Collier County, was purchased in 2005 by Conservation Collier, Collier County’s conservation land program. The preserve property is managed by Conservation Collier land manager Christal Segura. There are trail markers, benches, a picnic table and an educational sign built by Eagle Scout Trey Blackmon. The Collier County Audubon Society donated a sign identifying the woodpeckers found in the Preserve.
The Nancy Payton Preserve serves as an important wildlife refuge within Collier County’s urban fringe for many native plant and animal species. Wildlife known to occur or directly observed include the bobcat, cotton mouse, gopher tortoise, eastern gray squirrel, Florida panther, nine-banded armadillo, raccoon, spotted skunk, Virginia opossum, white-tailed deer, Big Cypress fox squirrel, red cockaded woodpecker and at least six different woodpecker species. Florida black bear are known to be in the area.
Manley Fuller and Briana Stiehl
Wekiwa Elementary Heathrow Elementary
The Wings of Hope Program is proud to announce the creation of our Bear Brigade Environmental Education Program! Like the Panther Posse Program, the Bear Brigade was created, and is directed, by Ricky Pires. This program will target fourth grades in Orlando and will connect with the Panther Posse students here in Collier and Lee County. The Bear Brigade will begin in the fall of 2015, four target schools will be used to launch this program and the focus will be on the Florida Black Bear. Wings of Hope will be partnering with FWC, Wekiwa Springs State Park and the University of Central Florida. In the photo above is Biologist Dr. Dan Smith of UCF, who is supplying us with the latest bear research, posing with some of our fourth grade elementary school teachers of Orlando! For more information about the Bear Brigade, click Here.
As the 2014-2015 school year is nearing its end for both collier and lee county grade school students, our Panther Posse fourth and fifth graders have went above and beyond in raising money and saving their pennies for panthers for the FGCU Wings of Hope Program. These funds are now being used to purchase a new infrared motion camera to capture pictures of our endangered Florida Panther, as well as, other critters that also call Florida habitats home. This includes, Florida Black Bears and more elusive animals such as the Grey Fox and Coyote. We are so thankful to our Panther Posse students for taking initiative and helping the success and perpetuation of our program for future generations. Together we will help save the Florida Panther and its habitat!