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Opinion
East County Tuesday, Jul. 9, 2019 1 month ago

Slower pace would protect our wildlife in Lakewood Ranch

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Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

As my age goes up, my speed goes down.

Perhaps it is the same with many of the seniors in East County. If you are a member of a younger generation, you might describe us as "safer" drivers or, some would say, "clueless" drivers.

When I drive down Lakewood Ranch Boulevard every day, I am the guy you are tailgating, probably using the "clueless' description with several obscenities along for the ride.

Yes, I am driving about 5 miles per hour over the speed limit, and, yes, that speed of 40 miles per hour can seem snail-like on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, between State Road 70 and University Parkway.

Jay Heater: Side of Ranch

But I am not going to apologize. I do know how quickly things can come at you on that stretch of road.

A couple of months ago, I was going to work, and a sandhill crane decided to land in front of my car. I say "land" but it was more of a jump from the median, which at that point had plenty of vegetation. I never saw the bird, which was as big as me, because I was on a bit of a curve.

I slammed on the brakes, and skidded forward, giving the crane a shot that knocked him/her into a body roll. I felt like I had just killed Big Bird. My heart sank.

A lady driver passed moments later and gave me an obscene gesture. I am sure she was thinking, "Idiot driver rushing to work."

The crane did get up and walk across the road, standing along the shoulder for a few minutes while I called the Sheriff's Office to see if there was anything I should do. The crane eventually walked off, and seemed to be OK, although obviously bruised. All I could hope was he/she didn't have any internal damage.

The lesson in all this is that even when you are doing the speed limit, and paying attention, stuff happens. And when stuff happens and you are speeding, as well as talking on the phone, or texting, or reading, or eating a Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco, things can escalate.

Lakewood Ranch's Stephanie Romanello has seen it escalate far too often.

Two weeks ago Romanello was driving eastbound on University Parkway toward the Lake Club when she came across an injured bobcat, collapsed along the side of the road. It had been hit by a car and had, as she put it, been left to die. It had happened in the middle of the day, so light wasn't an issue.

What happened afterward, frustrated her even more. She said curiosity seekers, and especially one senior woman, had gotten so close to the bobcat that it finally got to its feet and stumbled away. Romanello was angry because she had called a wildlife organization for help and was trying to keep the traffic moving so the bobcat wouldn't be even more terrified than it already was.

She shared information about the situation on social media in the hope to educate people about the dangers of speeding in an area where wildlife has been left homeless because of growth and about the effects silly curiosity can have on an injured animal.

"I've been around animals my whole life and I am a conservationist at heart," Romanello said. "I guess National Geographic is where my heart is. I grew up in the woods of New Hampshire.

"I don't know that we have a plan for all this growth (as far as wildlife is concerned) and I don't know that we are being good stewards of the land. If I couldn't save this bobcat, I hope educating people can be the next best thing."

Her suggestions include being mindful Lakewood Ranch residents need to share the area with animals that have been here for generations. That means slowing down on the roadways because there will be more interactions with wild animals. I know firsthand, and I was doing the speed limit.

The next thing would be to stifle your curiosity when a wild animal is hurt along the roadway. She said the best thing would be to call an animal rescue, such as Wildlife Inc. Keep an eye on the animal from a distance and try to keep traffic moving along so gawkers don't scare the animal. If someone already is keeping an eye on the animal, then leave.

"When we let our curiosity override our good judgement, the animal pays the price," Romanello said.

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