Editor’s update: The Wildlife Conservation Board approved the funding for the project. Lea este articulo en español aquí.
The Wildlife Conservation Board is scheduled to consider providing $5.6 million for a wildlife crossing near the San Benito-Monterey county line.
“The Project will develop a plan to address one of the most significant and least permeable wildlife connectivity bottlenecks in California,” according to the staff report on the agenda packet.
The project site is included in California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2022 Wildlife movement Barriers Priority List. The report notes that the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Gabilan Range are two of the state’s most biodiverse areas and are bisected by Hwy 101.
According to the report for the Nov. 15 meeting, mountain lions, black-tailed deer, the American badger and bobcats are among the species that are unable to safely cross this barrier.
“This results in negative ecological consequences and numerous wildlife-vehicle collisions,” the report states.
Morgan Robertson, senior environmental scientist for Caltrans District 5, told the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 26, that three mountain lions were reportedly killed by vehicles near that area of Hwy 101 in the last five years.
She added there are “high rates of roadkill” involving deer, coyotes and bobcats in the Aromas Hills.
According to the Conservation Board’s staff report, between 63,000 and 84,000 vehicles use that part of Hwy 101 each day. That area also includes tall median barriers; inadequate, small culverts and no bridge crossings.
“All of which together form an insurmountable obstacle to wildlife,” the staff report states.
If approved, the funding would be used to develop plans for infrastructure improvements such as engineering, design and landscape plans for one or multiple wildlife crossings at the project site.
According to the staff report, plans will be developed in collaboration with technical and biological experts to ensure designs are as taxonomically inclusive as possible, with a focus on facilitating movement for mountain lions, bobcats, and mule deer identified as target species in the fish and wildlife department’s Restoring California’s Wildlife Connectivity Report (see PDF below).
It adds that the design is also likely to consider the American badger and listed amphibians, such as the California tiger salamander.
The planning process includes environmental studies and technical reports required under the California Environmental Quality Act and National Environmental Policy Act to analyze avoidance and minimization measures.
The report adds that after the environmental document and designs are completed, Caltrans and partners will develop cost estimates and contract specifications so the contractor bid package and design process can begin immediately after the planning grant concludes.
Robertson told the San Benito County Board of Supervisors that on average, vegetated overcrossings in California cost “$50 plus million,” and that funding is available for these projects through grants from various state agencies as well as nonprofit organizations that raise money.
Robertson said no funding has been secured but that if Caltrans were to secure funding the earliest this project could be completed would be in 2030.
A similar project by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County known as The Laurel Curve Wildlife Crossing on Highway 17 was budgeted at $12 million, according to its website. The 10-year undercrossing project was completed in 2022.
The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County bought part of Rocks Ranch where the wildlife crossing is proposed, for the protection of wildlife, habitat preservation, restoration and management, wildlife-oriented education and research, and habitat connectivity.
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