Resolving landscape level highway impacts on the Florida black bear and other listed wildlife species
District Five of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is a nine-county area totaling about 5.6 million acres in east central Florida. District Five had the greatest population growth in Florida during the past 10 years, and FDOT has initiated a major long-term program for highway expansion and improvements to accommodate this growth. The Ocala and St. Johns River black bear populations are found in District Five, and account for greater than 50 percent of the statewide bear roadkill since 1976. Highway capacity improvements are planned for many highways that are currently sustaining high bear roadkill levels. This inherent conflict between highways and wildlife has resulted in considerable opposition and long-term delays to FDOT’s efforts to accomplish planned highway improvements.
This paper presents results of the successful resolution of fish and wildlife resource issues associated with the proposed six-laning of Interstate 4 (I-4), a major east-west transportation corridor that bisects regionally important habitat systems in east central Florida. Based on the results of an Environmental Assessment completed for the Federal Highway Administration in 2000, FDOT has completed design plans for two large wildlife underpasses, and a wildlife overpass, which will be constructed along a six-mile corridor of public lands in the area of Tiger Bay State Forest in Volusia County. Major issues which were addressed included: bear roadkills and habitat connectivity; impacts to public land; direct and secondary habitat loss; recreational access; and restoring historical hydrological connections originally severed by I-4 in the early 1960’s. Key considerations involved in the planning, design, cost, and siting of the structures, and the animal-proof funnel fencing. Landscape-level mitigation for project habitat loss was also facilitated through a coordinated effort by the St. Johns River Water Management District and FDOT in the acquisition of over $8 million of public land identified in FWC’s Integrated Wildlife Habitat Ranking System maps. This paper highlights the need for interagency coordination in acquiring public land to re-establish habitat connectivity to enhance long-term protection and management opportunities for the black bear and other listed species when dealing with highway impacts.