NAPLES — State officials are spending more than $5 million on a fencing project designed to keep panthers and other large animals off Alligator Alley.
The Florida Department of Transportation will start construction later this year on a project that includes 18 miles of 10-foot fencing and work on three animal underpasses east of the Naples-area toll booth.
The Florida Wildlife Federation has advocated for years to have panther fencing along all of Alligator Alley, which stretches from Miami to Naples. Wildlife officials say 14 panthers have been killed on that road since 2004. Road kills are the top cause of panther deaths.
"Our staff looked at it and it was determined that it was an important project not only for panthers but for humans," said FDOT's Zach Burch. "We obviously support protecting panthers and making sure they're able to get (safely) across all of our roads."
The News-Press of Fort Myers reports three wildlife crossings will be rebuilt and improved as part of the project to help larger animals use those connectors more easily.
Alligator Alley roadway runs perpendicular to most animal movements. Animals traveling north and south must go east or west, to a wildlife underpass, to cross the highway.
The current fencing has been little help as panthers can leap 15 feet to snare prey.
"Obviously a 4-foot fence is not an obstacle to a healthy panther," Burch said. "And it's not a tremendous amount of work for us."
Nancy Payton, the Naples representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation, said panther fencing was part of the permitting process, but it's unclear why former elected officials didn't follow through.
"They (panthers) will be able to travel between north and south Belle Meade more safely, but it's not going to be as convenient as playing Russian roulette with cars," she said.