California has long recognized and celebrated its world-renowned biodiversity and myriad ecosystems, boasting the ability to experience mountains, ocean, and desert in a single day's drive. However, California's ability to support native fish and wildlife increasingly is challenged by its status as the nation’s most populous state, requiring the State to be innovative so that society and the natural world can coexist. But, when it comes to utilizing wildlife crossings on our roads and highways, the State has been slow to embrace these proven, cost-effective measures that increase the safety of both human and wildlife travel.
We've all seen or even experienced the deadly result of vehicle-wildlife collisions. Direct impact with wildlife is an expensive and dangerous problem for both motorists and wildlife. The cost to Californians is hundreds of millions of dollars and multiple lives lost annually. And these collisions are the leading cause of death for several native species, including mountain lions and numerous amphibian and reptiles. However, the worst impacts of roads—loss of habitat connectivity—is not as apparent as we travel down a highway.
Roads and highways degrade and fragment habitats that prevent wildlife from moving to access water, adapt to climate change, find genetically diverse mates, and more. Some highways cause such an impenetrable barrier that wildlife do not even attempt to cross, leading to inbreeding, lack of food, and inability to adapt to extreme weather events, like wildfires, droughts, and flood.
Unfortunately, our recognition of connected ecosystems as an essential component of preserving biodiversity comes too late. Highway and roads bisecting migration corridors and ecosystems were built with little to none of these considerations in mind, and existing policies, as interpreted and applied, impede Caltrans' ability to retroactively address these barriers.
AB 2344, introduced by Assemblymember Friedman and Kalra, directly addresses the conflict between roads and wildlife by requiring Caltrans and CDFW to collaborate to identify where the State Highway System is impeding important wildlife movement and connected ecosystems and pinpoint priority projects, while requiring Caltrans to incorporate wildlife movement in its project designs and proactively implement at least 10 projects per year.
This legislation is ambitious and needs support from Californians across the State to ensure its passage. To support AB 2344, call your state representative to request their support on this important legislation or considering submitting a support letter.
Guest article written by Mari Galloway, California Program Manager at Wildlands Network.