A new wildlife encounter that will bring together 50 years of isolated ecosystems

POLK COUNTY, Fla. – On I-4, between Tampa and Orlando, construction is almost complete on one of Florida’s newest wildlife crossings.

The project will connect the northern and southern portions of the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area Osprey Unit for the first time in half a century.

Brent Setchell, FDOT District 1 Drainage Design Engineer, said: “We don’t know exactly what the animals are doing here and what their population size is, but we do know where they are. this”. “And, you know, it’s possible to cross, you know, those populations that are going to be great because of genetic diversity, you know, and allowing that wildlife to open up to new habitats.” and the new hallway home.”

Setchell took ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska on a tour of the new runway. The design will allow animals, both on land and in water, to safely cross I-4 by safely walking under the more than 106,000 vehicles that pass through the section daily.

“The The number one killer of Florida newspapers is transportationand I’m looking at I-4, and there’s no way you can get through unless you’re a super lucky cheetah or bear,” Paluska said.

“You’re going to have to be very lucky; you might have until 2 a.m., and there might be traffic jams, and you might get lucky, but it’s definitely not worth the risk,” Setchell said.

To protect the wonderful creatures that call Florida home, FDOT officials say they are building wildlife crossings with each new road project or retrofit. Here map shows the location of intersections across the state, with more planned in the future.

“How many more wildlife crossings do you think we can build to protect all of our species?” Paluska asked.

“There could be hundreds; with each new road project, we look at the opportunities for wildlife to cross the road. Now it’s in the guidebook that we need to look for those opportunities,” Setchell said. . “Certainly, there are a lot of roads out there where you know, we don’t have the information that we have right now, and so some of them have a lot of opportunities for us to improve those structures. existing just like we’re doing here with I-4.”

Wildlife cameras are now an essential tool used by the FDOT, nonprofits and wildlife advocates to document the secret lives of the animals we drive. days but may never notice.

William Freund, President of the fStop Foundation, said: “This is a testament to you that the photos are making an impact when they see these animals in the wild and says I can’t believe all of them. They are all here.”

Freund founded the nonprofit in 2015 to use videos and photos to make an impact on conservation efforts in Florida.

“A saying is a picture worth 1,000 words. I wanted to add something to it and I said ‘a video will take your breath away’, and the power of video is not only to show that the animal is really there. there and using Freund said. “The power is in places like Tallahassee or, you know, any place where you can really touch people’s hearts, and they can see how important this is. .”

A recent fStop Foundation video of a jumping skunk has gone viral. They also captured a mama leopard, her kittens, a mama bear with cubs, and the usual suspects, like crocodiles, deer and raccoons.

The group has produced several award-winning documentaries.

Connection needs is a 26-minute PBS series about the panther “FP224” and her wonderful life. Wild animals in our backyard is a six-minute film about the fund’s Shared Landscape project.

There is nothing random about where the junctions are installed. A tagged bear inspired the new location for this new crossing.

“You know, the bear ‘M-34’ wanders right under the power lines, where it can’t figure out how to cross I-4. And so this new passage makes that possible,” Setchell said. speak. “We have a lot of literature showing how successful these wildlife crossings are. They are 80 to 90 percent effective. Especially when you have a wildlife fence like we do. in this project. Move wildlife from side to side efficiently.”

So far, no cheetahs have been caught on a camera installed near the new runway. But, Setchell hopes that will change.

“The whole goal of the Florida panthers was to create three distinct populations of more than 250 Panthers,” says Setchell. “And, right now, we have a population that’s less than that. And so our goal is to try and drive that growth. And the only way we’re going to get there is to enable that. they migrated north. And so this crossing will help get there.”

The crossing will be completed by the end of this year.

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