Safe passage for panthers
In a ceremony this month, a group of landowners, agencies and conservation representatives broke ground on what could be the start of a new future for Florida panthers. The lifeline comes in the form of a wildlife underpass, built to protect the endangered cats and other wildlife crossing the busy road.
Florida’s first-ever privately funded wildlife crossing will use fencing and a large culvert to funnel wildlife safely under the road. This stretch of County Road 846, east of Immokalee, has proved particularly deadly for panthers, 10 of which have been killed while crossing it in the past 12 years.
This $1.3 million crossing comes as part of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the City Gate commercial project near I-75 and CR951. The HCP is a tool under the federal Endangered Species Act aimed at a more sustainable and comprehensive approach to balancing development and protection of habitat for imperiled wildlife such as panthers.
Too late for some
Construction can’t begin fast enough – last week, three male panthers were killed by vehicles while trying to cross busy Florida roads. The most recent was a young male of only 8-9 months.
“The recent panther tragedies underscore the urgency of projects such as the City Gate underpass,” said Laurie Macdonald, director of Defenders’ Florida program who attended the groundbreaking earlier this month. “It is critical to provide for safe passage of panthers across dangerous roads. We are working to get additional wildlife crossings installed – in addition to conserving quality habitat – in hopes of increasing this unique animal’s chance of survival.”
This is the 21st panther death of the year. With only days left before 2010 draws to a close, the amount of panther deaths caused by vehicles – 16 so far – rapidly approaches last year’s record of 17 road mortalities. Wildlife crossings could be the key to dramatically reducing these numbers and creating a safer future for the endangered cats.
Defenders is part of the Florida Panther Protection Program, a coalition committed to setting the endangered cat on a road to recovery.