Wildlife Crossings Needed to Protect Panthers

Wildlife crossings sharply reduce panther deaths due to vehicle collisions, the #1 known cause of death. 14 projects with plans for crossings remain unfunded.

Florida panther uses wildlife crossing bridge
USFWS | Public Domain
Endangered Florida panther uses a bridge designed for wildlife crossing

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Wildlife Vehicle Collisions are #1 Threat to Panthers 

Each year animals that are at risk of extinction die when cars and creatures collide on Florida roadways. It’s the number one cause of death to our endangered Florida panthers. From October 2020 – October 2023, 66 panthers have died in vehicle collisions. It may not sound like a lot, especially compared to common roadkill such as possums or raccoons. But with a population somewhere between 120 – 230, it’s a substantial number. This year estimates of the panther population may dip even lower than that. 

Nationwide there are nearly 2 million crashes involving wildlife a year. Wildlife are not the only victims of these collisions. Florida ranks 9th in the nation in human deaths caused by wildlife vehicle collisions (WVC). The solution: specially designed overpasses or underpasses that allow wildlife to cross roads without interacting with motorists. Studies show that wildlife crossings are the most effective way to mitigate wildlife vehicle collisions. 

“While they are no replacement for keeping roadways out of panther habitat, crossing structures are our best chance to connect habitat and reduce vehicle mortalities. Crossings are preferred over signs or other such systems that rely on motorist response or slowing their speed,” said Amber Crooks Environmental Policy Manager at Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

What is a Wildlife Crossing

Florida has approximately 200 wildlife crossings across the state. The Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) ESRI map shows bridges that wildlife are currently using to cross state roadways, some were designed specifically for wildlife, others are simply places where wildlife crossings have been documented. Many contain additional features like fencing used to direct animals to the crossing. Research shows that together these features reduce vehicle animal collisions by 97%. Sometimes the crossing is a bridge over the roadway or a culvert built to create an underpass, sometimes it’s a shelf that’s built along a waterway underneath, either way it’s a connection for wildlife to move safely from one side of the road to the other. 

The majority of panther deaths happen in Lee, Hendry, and Collier counties. These fall in the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 1. Here’s an overlay of hotspots for panther vehicle collisions with a map of current wildlife crossings in that area. Bright green dots indicate locations of existing wildlife crossing features.  Green, Blue, Orange and Red line segments represent color coded hotspots for panther collisions.

FDOT ESRI map showing wildlife crossing features in relation to panther mortality hotspots
FDOT | Public Domain
FDOT ESRI map of wildlife crossings (green) and panther death hotspots (blue, orange, red)

Right now, there are 9 fully funded projects in District 1 that include wildlife protection features like fencing and some wildlife crossings. FDOT is also planning 14 more projects which include wildlife crossing features, but they are not currently funded for construction.

The Grants

FDOT has applied for a federal grant that is a part of a pilot program created under the Bipartisan Infrastructure law. The Wildlife Crossings Pilot Project will provide $350 million in grants over 5 years to states and communities specifically to build these structures. The grant is competitive; currently FDOT has applied for about $7.4M to cover most of the $9M cost to put in a large concrete culvert underneath US 27 in Highlands county. 

Two more crossings are planned in a large project on SR 29 in Glades county. FDOT is seeking $25M in grant money for that project as part of the Rural Surface Transportation grant program also established in the Bipartisan Infrastructure law. Transportation officials should find out if they’ll get the two federal grants around the 1st of the year.

Federal dollars are not the only place to find funding for wildlife crossings. Planned crossing construction near I-4 at SR 33 in Polk county is coming from the state’s Moving Florida Forward Infrastructure Initiative proposed and passed by Governor Ron DeSantis. 

Wildlife Crossings Need Your Support

Based on the effectiveness of wildlife crossings and the demonstrated need for them, increased funding at both the state and federal levels could spare the lives of animals, humans, and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in damage and cleanup. 

We urge you to write your legislator today in support of wildlife crossings! Ask them to support initiatives that include consideration and funding for these life saving projects. More wildlife crossings mean lower risk to our unique wildlife and drivers. 


Mia McCormick

Advocate, Environment Florida

Mia is focused on fighting for clean waterways, protecting Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas, advocating for stronger wildlife protections and reducing plastic pollution on our beaches. Mia lives in the Tampa Bay area and loves taking her family on nature adventures.

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