Conservationists worldwide are realizing that wild animals are increasingly locked into pockets by freeways and highways. Staying in the pockets leads to inbreeding and local extinction. Trying to venture out too often leads to death on roads and highways.
In California, Caltrans, the state transit agency, is partnering with the public and conservation groups to identify areas for over and under crossings and to find other ways to facilitate the safe crossing of roadways. Animals saved by these projects range from salamanders to California black bears.
The headline animal in this drive is the Santa Monica Mountain cougar. These animals are confined by freeways into a narrow area and often risk death crossing busy roadways, Caltrans says about a dozen were killed by cars in the area in a 7 year stretch.
The Liberty Canyon overpass broke ground in April and is expected to help alleviate the situation by creating a safe passage over the 101 Freeway. But Liberty Canyon is only one of more than 50 such projects completed with more coming. An underpass is nearing completion near Santa Cruz.
In addition to under and overpasses Caltrans will build larger culverts under freeways to facilitate animal travel and install fencing to lead them there. The agency will also open median barriers to permit pass through and create what they call jump outs to allow deer caught in right-0f-way to jump to safety.
Times have changed. Where once roadway construction paid no heed to wildlife concerns, every project now addresses them. Caltrans also looks backward to existing structures to improve them.
As of 2019 Caltrans had two projects in development on State Route 17, The Laurel Curve project near Santa Cruz has broken ground.
The process begins with research and Caltrans and academic partners research animal movements and use techniques including collars and trail cams to further the work. Those cams also help provide proof that the completed projects are working.
As we have noted in other posts. deer are frequent victims of crashes. In the area near Bishop more than 1,800 deer died in crashes in about one decade. The cost in animal lives, human life and property damage is huge. About 6,600 car-wildlife accidents were reported in 2017. Those accidents caused an estimated $307 million in damage.