We suppose thereís a couple different ways to look at the recent spate of panther fatalities on Southwest Florida roads.
One is that the record number of deaths before the year is half over means the population must be doing great because there are so many panthers out there.
The other is that something needs to be done.
We wish the first scenario were true, but the numbers show otherwise. The panther population certainly is doing better than a quarter-century ago, when there were fewer than 40 of the big cats left in the state, and their genetic cousins had to be imported from Texas to keep the panther from going extinct in Florida.
Wildlife managers, though, say the panthers need two separate populations of at least 240 cats each before the species could move from endangered to merely threatened.
The current number? About 100, in a single population.
That leaves the second scenario, that something must be done. Thirteen panthers have died after being hit by vehicles so far this year, breaking the previous single-year record of 11. Four were killed this month alone, including two on one day.
What can be done? The state and national chapters of the Florida Wildlife Federation sent a letter to local, state and federal authorities last week urging them to take several steps.
The recommendations ranged from the broad ó develop a regional plan for wildlife crossings in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties ó to the specific ó extend fencing along a particularly dangerous stretch of State Road 29 and adopt the western alignment for the extension of Collier Boulevard in north Collier and south Lee.
There are some indications of, if not progress, at least a willingness to consider all options. Collier County commissioners next month will consider an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that could lead to a series of wildlife crossings, probably along S.R. 29 and Immokalee and Oil Well roads.
That would be a good start, though only a start. A panther population hovering around 100 is remarkably fragile. Disease and the normal dangers of living in the wild claim their share of the predators each year.
Thatís part of natureís cycle, and we canít do much about it. We can, however, take steps to lessen the threat from speeding vehicles and the omnipresent specter of habitat loss.
To do otherwise suggests thereís one other way to look at the recent fatalities and the overall threat to the speciesí survival: That we just donít care.