SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Conservation groups called on Gov. Gavin Newsom today to set aside $1 billion in his budget for increased investments in wildlife crossings and habitat connectivity.
The groups’ letter urges Newsom to allocate $800 million for the protection of natural lands needed to enhance connectivity and $200 million for wildlife crossings on existing highways.
“Car strikes are killing California’s mountain lions, kit foxes and tortoises, while highways block their ability to find food, mates and shelter,” said Tiffany Yap, senior scientist and wildlife corridor advocate at the Center. “We urge Gov. Newsom to protect California’s beloved wildlife by investing in wildlife crossings and habitat connectivity.”
Wildlife crossings reduce costly and dangerous wildlife-vehicle collisions. In 2018 alone such collisions in California caused 314 instances of injury in people, an estimated five human deaths, and more than $230 million in economic and social costs, according to the UC Davis Road Ecology Center. Utah has documented a 98.5% reduction and Colorado has documented an 89% reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions on sections of highways where they have implemented wildlife crossings.
Scientists have already identified suitable locations in California for crossings that would help imperiled wildlife, yet state funding has been lacking. In the latest budget proposal, Newsom did not dedicate sufficient funds specifically to wildlife connectivity.
“California must invest in protecting and connecting habitats to promote its rich biodiversity in light of the state’s high population and rate of development,” said Mari Galloway, California program manager at Wildlands Network. “Wildlife crossing structures not only promote connected habitats and safe wildlife movement, they dramatically reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions and their associated costs.”
Lack of connectivity is increasing genetic isolation in California mountain lions. Researchers with the National Park Service, UC Davis and UCLA warn that if nothing is done to improve connectivity for these wide-ranging large carnivores, populations in the Santa Ana and Santa Monica mountains could become extinct within decades. Cougars in the Santa Cruz, San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains are showing similar patterns.
In April 2020 the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to grant these cougar populations candidacy status and move them toward protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act. But badly needed crossings remain unfunded.
In Riverside County, funding is needed for two crucial wildlife crossings for Interstate 15 that would improve connectivity between the Santa Ana Mountains and the Eastern Peninsular Range. A planned crossing at Liberty Canyon in Los Angeles County, which also needs funding to start construction, would provide a key linkage between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Sierra Madre Range.
“Our threatened mountain lion populations are running out of time. We need to prioritize wildlife crossings and connectivity in this state to ensure we create a future for mountain lions and all wildlife, and to preserve California’s remarkable wild heritage that we all cherish,” said Beth Pratt, California Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation and leader of the #SaveLACougars campaign.