OPINION: Florida roads need animal-friendly infrastructure

Roads in Florida have been damaging fragile ecosystems. They need to be made more animal friendly. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR

As more roads are built to keep up with transportation needs, they have become detrimental to local ecosystems and the animals that call them home.

Implementing more animal-friendly infrastructure such as wildlife crossings can help minimize the number of animals killed by drivers. It is more important than ever that roads are built with animals in mind.

There were an estimated 50,800 animal collision insurance claims in Florida between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. This is a 30% increase from the previous year, during which 38,800 were reported, according to a 2021 Ormond Beach Observer article.

The Florida black bear population in particular has felt the effects of vehicle collisions, which account for nearly 90% of the 345 bear deaths across the state, as stated on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) website.

Car crashes were also the leading cause of Florida panther deaths in 2021, as reported by the FWC. This figure has not improved, as 15 panthers have already been killed by vehicles this year, according to another FWC report.

The Florida panther is one of the most endangered animals in the world, with an estimated 120 to 230 left in the wild, as stated on the Florida Wildlife Federation website. If these roadkill rates continue, the population won’t be able to keep up.

Wildlife crossings have been proven to be an effective way to combat these deaths, as stated by the FWC. Fortunately, some are being put in place across the state in an effort to protect Florida’s wildlife.

Polk County officials have recently made some animal-friendly adjustments to I-4. They plan to raise part of the highway to create a wildlife underpass, as reported in a May 9 article by WUSF. The forest that was divided by I-4 in the 1970s will be reconnected, allowing animals to get safely across.

This is a great development, but wildlife crossings and other such infrastructure need to be the standard when designing new roads. Endangered species like the Florida black bear and panther, as well as the rest of Florida’s wildlife, deserve a safe way to get across the roads.

Wildlife crossings need to become commonplace in order to lower the excessive rates of animals killed by drivers on Florida’s roads.