For Immediate Release, May 26, 2022

Contact:

Mari Galloway, Wildlands Network, (209) 373-9973, mari@wildlandsnetwork.org
Tiffany Yap, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 847-5838, tyap@biologicaldiversity.org

California Assembly Passes Bill to Improve Wildlife Connectivity, Public Safety

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The California Assembly passed legislation on Wednesday that would improve wildlife connectivity and make California roads safer. The Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act would prioritize wildlife crossings and other infrastructure projects that improve wildlife connectivity and reduce wildlife-vehicle collision risk.

The bill, which still needs California Senate approval, would require Caltrans to identify barriers to wildlife movement before planning and designing transportation projects. Caltrans would also need to consider and incorporate wildlife movement needs when building or improving roads and highways.

“It’s vitally important to make California safer for wildlife and people traveling on busy highways,” said Tiffany Yap, D.Env/Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Responsible transportation projects that improve wildlife connectivity are within reach, and I’m confident the Senate will take this bill across the finish line.”

Habitat for the state’s most iconic species, including mountain lions, desert tortoises and California tiger salamanders, has been fragmented by roads, freeways and development. This fragmentation has led to inbreeding and genetic isolation for many sensitive species. The bill would prioritize effective wildlife crossings so animals can roam and find mates.

Wildlife crossings in the form of overpasses, underpasses, culverts and other roadway features can make travel safer for motorists. More than 44,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions were reported on California roads from 2016 to 2020, resulting in human deaths, injuries and property damages, according to the UC Davis Road Ecology Center.

These reported collisions have resulted in damages totaling at least $1 billion in that timeframe. Estimated costs could be as high as $2 billion when considering unreported collisions that are documented in insurance claims.

“At the time many of our roads and highways were built, we weren’t considering the barriers to wildlife movement or fragmentation of ecosystems,” said Mari Galloway of Wildlands Network. “California needs innovative policies to reconnect ecosystems and give our mountain lions, bears and other wildlife an opportunity to safely cross our roads.”

The Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act builds on legislation enacted last year that encourages coordination between Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to implement wildlife crossings. Senate Bill 790, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, clarified the application of mitigation credits to wildlife connectivity projects.

This bill takes it a step further by requiring Caltrans to plan and build projects every year to improve wildlife movement and enhance public safety. The projects, which can be a freeway overpass or directional fencing at an existing underpass, would be prioritized in coordination with state wildlife officials. The bill would also establish a protocol for state agencies to gather roadkill data and identify areas where wildlife passages are most needed.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Since 1991, Wildlands Network has been reconnecting, restoring, and rewilding North America so that life in all of its diversity can thrive.