VENUS, Fla. (AP) — Federal wildlife officials want to pay Florida landowners to maintain their property as habitat for endangered panthers.

Under a pilot program announced Thursday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the government would spend $500,000 a year to pay landowners to preserve about 26,000 acres for about 10 years.

Kevin Godsea of the Florida Panther National Wildlife tells the Tampa Bay Times that some states have tried similar programs, but this is the first attempted by the federal government.

State and federal officials have been holding closed-door meetings for months about panther conservation efforts. They say that under the pilot program, landowners would have to follow certain land-management practices and allow annual federal inspections.

Florida panthers once roamed the Southeast, but now they're confined to the state's southern tip.


Information from: Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.),