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Under Pressure, Texas Moves to Stop Ocelot Traffic Deaths

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 15, 2014

(Photo: Ana Cotta)

(Photo: Ana Cotta)

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for Takepart about the only U.S. population of the endangered ocelot suffering from roadkills because of poor planning on Texas State Highway 100.  Among other things, I asked readers to phone or email to let the Texas Department of Transportation know how they felt about that.

Now TexDot, as it’s known, says it’s going to fix the problem.  It’s not clear whether this is a smokescreen or the beginning of a genuine improvement.  I’ll keep an on it to see what really happens, and whether it happens soon enough to make a difference.  Meanwhile, here’s the report from ValleyCentral.com

Funding has been secured for four ocelot crossings on Highway 100 between Laguna Vista and Los Fresnos.

After four of the endangered cats were killed on the busy road and years of meetings with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is prepared to construct four wildlife crossings beneath the roadway similar to this one on Highway 48 near the Port of Brownsville.

Regional TxDOT spokesman Octavio Saenz spoke to the Nature Report about the project.

“We secured funding for four crossings,” Saenz said. “We are still in negotiations or talks, I should say regarding the size of two of those crossings.”

With less than 50 of the rare cats estimated to remain in the wild,

biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are relieved to learn that funding for the vital crossings is finally in place.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Manager Boyd Blihovde supports the project.

“It’s great news for ocelots, and we are really happy that TXDOT has taken it seriously on Highway 100,” Blihovde said. “Obviously, from the top down they are taking ocelot conservation seriously and wanting to protect them, and we are glad for that.”

Some $5 million dollars has been allocated for the four crossing on Highway 100, and construction should begin next year.

“Hopefully, the summer of 2015 and we are looking to get it done as soon as possible,” Saenz said.

Blihovde said the project is very timely given the recents deaths of ocelos along the busy road to South Padre Island.

“We just hope that it happens really soon, because the longer we wait the more chances there are for ocelots to get hit on Highway 100,” Blihovde said. “You know, two ocelots were hit on Highway 100 during this previous year, and so two in one year is a lot of ocelots when we only have eleven that we are monitoring here on Laguna Atascosa.”

The only thing left now, is start moving dirt.

“The funds are available, and now it is time to get to work,” Saenz said.

With your Nature Report, I’m Richard Moore

I asked a local ocelot activist to comment and got this response:

There is some genuine good, assuming the crossings actually get built and get built in a timely manner.  However, I understand there have been many empty promises from TXDOT in the past.  Also, we wanted 5 crossings not 4 and short-term, more importantly, we strongly recommended that they remove the concrete barrier, or at least install metal beam guardrail fence at 150 ft. intervals.  They essentially blew off this extremely crucial recommendation.
So, you’ll hear some Fish and Wildlife Service people celebrating, but the jury is still out for me.  TXDOT has wasted no time patting themselves pretty hard on the back, of course.
More to come.

One Response to “Under Pressure, Texas Moves to Stop Ocelot Traffic Deaths”

  1. This comment came in from Tom De Marr, who heads Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge:

    This was the news we wanted. I do believe the article you wrote and perhaps letters that it may have evoked plus letters that we generated locally plus the threat of local political pressure which I was started to generate may finally have gotten their attention. For four year USFWS had been providing good science to TXDOT and asking respectfully for something to be done. It was all ignored. The negative attitude of TXDOT had placed all federally funded highway projects in Texas in jeopardy. It was time for people action, letter writing and political pressure.

    This does not mean this is done. I have seen with my own eyes TXDOT promise, start a project and then abandon it, leaving half- baked infrastructure in the field. I will believe it is done, when it is done. Keep in touch. There may be more to talk about.

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