Two mountain lions walk through woods in daylight

Drivers Encouraged to be Alert and Aware During Watch Out for Wildlife Week

They aren’t watching out for you, so you need watch out for them.

This time of year, the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions typically peak as animals start migrating to winter habitat, mating season begins for deer and elk, and bears spend more time foraging before hibernation. To help reduce collisions, Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) remind motorists to be on the lookout during Watch Out for Wildlife Week, which runs Sept. 15-21.

Watch Out for Wildlife Week marks the beginning of the migration season for California’s wildlife, particularly elk and deer. Many of California’s roadways cut through these animals’ routes. It is vital that drivers be especially alert now through December to avoid collisions with wild animals. These crashes not only harm wildlife, but they can damage vehicles and cause injury and death to drivers and passengers.

“Caltrans is dedicated to improving the safety of California drivers, which includes being responsible when it comes to the environment,” said Caltrans Acting Director Bob Franzoia. “This can mean installing flashing warning signs and building ramps and larger culverts for safer passage over and under our roads.”

“From September through December, wildlife often exhibit natural behaviors that can increase their movements and activity nearer to humans and roadways,” said CDFW Conflict Programs Coordinator Vicky Monroe. “That makes large animals such as deer, bears and mountain lions more likely to be killed or injured by wildlife-vehicle collisions.”

According to the California Highway Patrol, 15 people died and 810 people were injured in 4,368 collisions with animals on state, county and local roadways throughout California between 2017 and 2018. The UC Davis Road Ecology Center estimates the total annual cost of animalvehicle conflicts in California to be at least $307 million in 2018.

Wildlife experts offer the following tips for motorists:

  • Be extra alert when driving near areas wildlife frequent, such as streams and rivers, and reduce your speed especially around curves.
  • Don’t text and drive! Leave your phone alone; it can wait.
  • Pay extra attention driving during the morning and evening hours when wildlife are often most active.
  • If you see an animal on or near the road, know that others may be following.
  • Don’t litter. Trash and food odors can attract animals to roadways.
  • Pay attention to road shoulders. Look for movement or reflecting eyes. Slow down and honk your horn if you see an animal on or near the road.
  • Respect wildlife. California is their home too.

The Watch Out for Wildlife campaign is supported by Caltrans, CDFW, Defenders of Wildlife and the UC Davis Road Ecology Center.

Here are a few examples of what Caltrans, CDFW and their partners are doing to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, improve awareness of key issues and improve ecological sustainability:

Twin Gulches Undercrossings Provide Safe Passage for Pacific Fishers on State Route 299

Caltrans District 2 staff continue to monitor the Twin Gulches undercrossings that were constructed to provide safe passage for wildlife, including a rare species, the Pacific fisher. These crossings were constructed as part of the Twin Gulches Curve Improvement Project, which was finished in 2016. Photos from four trail cameras currently in place at the inlets and outlets of the culverts have captured several species using these structures.

A brown Pacific fisher with a black muzzle walks through an oversized steels culvert at night
A rare Pacific fisher passes through an oversized culvert constructed specifically for wildlife west of Redding under SR-299.

Construction of Wildlife Undercrossings Scheduled near Placerville

The Camino Safety Project east of Placerville in El Dorado County will go to construction next year and will include a 12-foot by 12-foot box culvert as a wildlife undercrossing, eight-foot wildlife fence, and four wildlife escape ramps for animals that may become trapped in the right-of-way. Camera monitoring and wildlife tracking show the project on U.S. Highway 50 will benefit deer, coyotes, foxes, and other species.

A doe and fawn walk through green, gold, and brown woodland
A doe and fawn traverse a patch of woodland near SR-50 and the site of a proposed box culvert that will be built for wildlife, as part of the Camino Safety Project in summer 2020. Caltrans photo

SR-68 Wildlife Crossing Improvements Planned in Monterey County

Caltrans has started environmental studies for the SR-68 Corridor Improvements Project that will include wildlife connectivity improvements near Monterey. The project follows recommendations from the Route 68 Scenic Highway Plan completed by the Transportation Agency of Monterey County (TAMC) in 2017. At TAMC’s request, Pathways for Wildlife installed wildlife cameras at culverts that cross under the highway. Their data were used to identify locations along the corridor where future improvements will be made to promote safe passage for wildlife under SR-68.

A tawny, faintly-marked bobcat walks out of a dark culvert
A bobcat crosses under SR-68 in Monterey County. Photo courtesy of Pathways for Wildlife

Southern California’s Liberty Canyon Wildlife Overpass

The storied Liberty Canyon Wildlife Overpass would be the largest stand-alone bridge built specifically for wildlife in the country once constructed. The overpass would reconnect the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills in Los Angeles County and span 10 lanes of traffic on U.S. Highway 101 and a frontage road. Caltrans and its partners have recently entered the  design phase for the bridge, which is a significant milestone in delivering a construction project. Fundraising efforts to raise $60 million for construction costs are ongoing.

Grant-funded Work to Improve Wildlife Connectivity Underway in Ventura County

Thanks to an Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program grant from the California Natural Resources Agency, Caltrans District 7 is installing upgrades to a wildlife undercrossing on SR-118 in Ventura County. These modifications include adding directional wildlife fencing and a ramp to better guide wildlife to the safe passageway. The National Park Service will help Caltrans monitor the success of this project after construction.

A new chain-link fence on undeveloped land ends at a freeway underpass
Chain-link fencing on SR-118 in Ventura County guides animals along the Mejico Creek corridor and safely under the highway.

Partnering Efforts Underway

Caltrans continues to partner with external agencies and nongovernmental organizations around the state to identify solutions for reducing roadkill. Caltrans’ District 2 office in Redding is a partner on the Elk Strike Prevention Team dedicated to identifying ways to reduce the number of elk-vehicle collisions on SR-97. Other team members include the California Highway Patrol, the UC Davis Road Ecology Center, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the California Deer Association.

The Caltrans’ District 8 office in San Bernardino has teamed up with The Nature Conservancy, Cal Poly Pomona, and UC Davis mountain lion researcher Winston Vickers to conduct field work on assessing wildlife connectivity near Interstate 15 in Riverside and San Diego counties. The team is particularly focused on studying the movement of mountain lions across the highway between the Temecula Creek Bridge and the Riverside/San Diego county line. Study results will help inform the development of conceptual design improvements for the wildlife corridor.

An 8-lane freeway cuts through dry, rocky, uneven terrain
I-15 in Riverside County is a deadly barrier through mountain lion habitat.

Wildlife-vehicle Collision Hotspot Analysis and Other Research

In partnership with the Western Transportation Institute, Caltrans recently completed a hotspot analysis that identifies the stretches of California highways with the highest frequencies of deer-vehicle collisions. This project will help determine where potential improvements may be needed to improve roadway safety. The report is available for download through the Western Transportation Institute’s (WTI) webpage.

Caltrans is funding research being completed by the U.S. Geological Survey and WTI to develop ways to help threatened and endangered amphibians and reptiles move around. Researchers are also developing crossing designs for amphibians and reptiles, including a low-lying bridge concept being tested on a dirt road in the Sierra National Forest. If adopted for use on California’s state highways, such a bridge would provide more space than traditional small diameter culverts for small-bodied amphibians and reptiles to move beneath roadways. Additionally, Caltrans is participating in a Pooled Fund Study with several other state departments of transportation to investigate cost-effective measures for reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions.

A mule deer walks across a paved two-lane road with a double-yellow line
This mule deer crossing a California highway is a good reminder to motorists to be alert to other users of the State Highway System.

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Media Contacts:
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420
Alisa Becerra, Caltrans Public Affairs, (916) 919-1701

Wildfire Scars, Wilderness Areas Hold Promise as California’s General Deer Season Opens Sept. 21 Across Much of the State

California’s general deer season dawns across much of the state Sept. 21, and hunters would do well to scout and hunt those areas scarred by wildfires two to five years ago.

“These wildfires often are devastating for us as people, but from a deer’s standpoint, they like young, new growth that comes in after a fire. That is some of the best habitat for deer,” said Nathan Graveline, big game supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

Burn scars that are two to five years old provide the best combination of forage for deer and optimal hunting conditions. The open canopy that allows sunlight to reach the forest floor and generate the young, nutritious growth favored by deer, also helps hunters move more easily through the habitat and spot deer.

“It only takes about five or six years for the brush to come back to the point where you can’t see very well,” Graveline said. “And while the deer are still doing well in those areas, it just makes the hunting tougher.”

Hunters can check for past burns at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection incidents webpage. Information on any current or future wildfire-related closures is available at www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/area-alerts.

Deer season is already underway in California’s A and B4 hunting zones along the coast, but the majority of general zones available to rifle hunters – B1-B3, B5, B6, C1-C4, D6 and D7 – open Saturday, Sept. 21.

A limited number of rifle hunters also get the first opportunities at mule deer along the eastern Sierra as the premium X9a, X9b and X12 zones in Inyo and Mono counties – tags available only through CDFW’s Big Game Drawing – open Sept. 21.

Several other popular deer hunting zones – D3-5 and D8-10 – open the following week, on Saturday, Sept. 28, as do the premium eastern Sierra hunt zones X8 and X10.

Hunters are reminded that nonlead ammunition is now required for hunting deer and taking wildlife anywhere in California with a firearm. Deer hunters are strongly encouraged to re-zero their rifles with nonlead ammunition before they go hunting.

Detailed information on California’s various deer zones, including season dates, descriptions and maps, is available at CDFW’s Deer Hunting webpage: www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/deer.

Biologists estimate California’s deer population at 459,450.

While resident mule deer and coastal black-tailed deer numbers are generally holding steady and increasing in some places – particularly in suburban and foothill areas and along the river corridors of the Central Valley – California’s migratory mule deer herds in the eastern part of the state are down as a result of increasing human activity, development, habitat deterioration and predation.

Eastern Sierra deer herds also have yet to fully recover from severe winter and spring weather in 2016 and 2017 that resulted in significant mortality of both fawns and adults.

With a limited deer population and increasing human recreation and activity in deer country in the fall, deer hunters are encouraged to explore new tactics and new country.

For hunters that need to or want to stick close to roads, Graveline suggests using pullouts to glass nearby slopes.

“Many hunters I talk to are moving too fast, whether on foot or in a vehicle,” Graveline said. “Slowing down and using your optics will greatly increase your odds of seeing deer.”

Backcountry hunting is gaining in popularity, particularly with improvements in clothing and equipment the last 10 to 15 years.

“Hunting the high country provides a great opportunity to experience incredible wilderness areas,” Graveline said.

Hunters are reminded that deer tag reporting is mandatory – even for hunters who are unsuccessful or those tag holders who don’t have a chance to hunt at all. CDFW has produced a video on how to properly complete, attach and report your deer tag.

fire damage at ecological reserve

Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve Closed Due to Fire

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has announced the immediate closure of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve in Riverside County as a result of the Tenaja Incident (fire). Although the fire was largely under control as of Friday, Sept. 13, CDFW staff has closed the reserve to public access in order to perform repairs to critical infrastructure and allow firefighters to completely extinguish parts of the property that may still be smoldering.

The 7,500-acre reserve will be closed to all public access and activities, including biking, hiking and equestrian use, until further notice.

 

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Media Contacts:
Richard Kim, CDFW Inland Deserts Region, (760) 922-6783
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

tree squirrel

General Tree Squirrel Season to Open Sept. 14

California’s 2019-2020 general tree squirrel season will be open from Saturday, Sept. 14 through Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. Tree squirrels may be taken only in the open zone during the open season, from between one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset. A map of the state’s tree squirrel hunt zones can be found on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website, along with the full tree squirrel regulations.

Four types of tree squirrels are game species in California. The Western gray squirrel and the Douglas squirrel are both native to California while the Eastern fox squirrel and the Eastern gray squirrel are introduced and not native to the state. These tree squirrels can be hunted in the open zone during the open season under authority of a hunting license in California. No other validations are required.

A fifth species of tree squirrel, the Northern Flying Squirrel, is not a game species and may not be taken. Flying squirrels are small, native tree squirrels that are seldom encountered due to their nocturnal nature and preference for mature forest habitats with complex canopy structure.

Tree squirrel population levels fluctuate from year to year based on prevailing weather conditions and the annual production of nuts, acorns and seeds for forage.

California received above-average rainfall during 2018-19, with a particularly wet spring season. “With a return to favorable weather patterns, and good acorn production, there should be ample opportunities to hunt tree squirrels this year,” said Matt Meshriy, an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Upland Game Program.

In recent years, approximately 10,000 to 15,000 hunters have reported hunting tree squirrels annually and their combined statewide bag has ranged from 50,000 to 75,000.

National forests provide some of the best opportunity to hunt tree squirrels in California. Bureau of Land Management lands and CDFW wildlife areas may also provide opportunity for squirrel hunting. Please note that nonlead shot is now required when taking any wildlife with a firearm anywhere in California. Please plan accordingly. For more information please see the CDFW nonlead ammunition page.

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Media Contacts:
Matt Meshriy, CDFW Upland Game Program, (916) 322-6709
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

quail

Quail, Forest Grouse, Ptarmigan and Band-tailed Pigeon General Seasons to Open Soon

The 2019-20 general upland game bird hunting season will open in mid-September for several species in specific zones around the state, providing hunters with many opportunities to bring home some delicious table fare.

September openers include quail (Zone Q1 opens for mountain quail on Sept. 14, and Zone Q2 will be open for all quail on Sept. 28), sooty and ruffed grouse (general season will open in various northern and eastern counties on Sept. 14), white-tailed ptarmigan (which will open Sept. 14) and band-tailed pigeon (the northern hunt zone will open Sept. 21).

Please note that as of July 1, 2019, nonlead ammunition is required when taking any wildlife with a firearm anywhere in California. Please plan accordingly. For more information, please see the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) nonlead ammunition page.

Zone maps and information about daily bag limits and possession limits for each game bird species can be found on the CDFW Upland Game Bird Hunting webpage. Additional information about each species can be found below.

Quail

Quail are some of the state’s most popular native game birds. There are three species of quail found in California: California quail, mountain quail and Gambel’s quail. California quail (the state bird) are common and widespread throughout the state in low to mid-elevation brushy habitats with good cover and abundant food. Mountain quail are found in higher elevation habitats. Gambel’s quail are California’s most desert-adapted species and are found in the very arid lands of southeastern California.

The early mountain quail-only season starts on Sept. 14 in Zone Q1 and continues through Oct. 18, covering much of the mountainous region of northern and eastern California. On Sept. 28, the early general quail season opens in Zone Q2 for all quail species in several north coast counties. The remainder of the state will open to quail hunting on Oct. 19 and extend through Jan. 26, 2020. Finally, an additional two-day early hunt season will be open on Oct. 5-6 in Mojave National Preserve for hunters with junior hunting licenses.

CDFW is offering fall hunts for quail (and wild chukar) throughout the state. Special drawings for public land quail and chukar hunts through the Upland Game Wild Bird Hunt Program are available in Kern, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and San Diego counties, and drawings for hunts on private ranches (offered through the SHARE Program) will be available in Tulare and Santa Barbara counties. Hunters can apply for these opportunities online, at CDFW license sales offices, through retail license agents or by calling (800) 565-1458.

For all quail species, the daily bag limit is 10 and the possession limit is triple the daily bag.

All three native species of quail are characterized by high reproductive potential associated with adequate and well-timed winter and early spring precipitation. Northern California experienced increased precipitation this spring, benefitting quail habitat and productivity. Hunters should experience good populations of quail this fall.

All three species of quail are most active in the early morning and later afternoon and move in large coveys throughout the day. Quail have distinctive calls that can provide clues to the birds’ location. Quail are more apt to run than flush, making them a more challenging game bird to hunt. Hunting dogs can be useful for locating, flushing and retrieving birds in the field.

Quail can be successfully hunted with legal gauge shotguns. A modified or improved cylinder choke is recommended to avoid damage to the bird. Because of the dense brush habitats where they are usually hunted, downed quail can be hard to find. Despite this challenge, CDFW reminds hunters that wasting game is both unethical and illegal.

Forest Grouse

California has two species of native forest-dwelling grouse: the sooty grouse and the ruffed grouse. Sooty grouse occur in the Sierra Nevada, Cascade and northern Coast ranges while the ruffed grouse is restricted to the northwestern part of the state. The general hunting season for both species extends from Sept. 14 to Oct. 14 this year. For sooty and ruffed grouse, the daily bag limit is two (both of one species or mixed species) and possession limit is triple the daily bag.

Although they are fairly large birds, grouse camouflage themselves well and generally hold tight to their location even when hunters are nearby. They flush quickly and fly off in a zigzag pattern, requiring a quick and accurate response from a hunter. Dogs are useful companions to help hunters find, flush and retrieve bagged grouse.

Ptarmigan

The white-tailed ptarmigan is a non-native grouse that was introduced by CDFW to the Sierra Nevada in the early 1970s. This is the smallest species of ptarmigan and the only one found in California. They inhabit the high elevation alpine habitats at low densities from Sonora Pass in Tuolumne County to Kings Canyon National Park.

Hunting these birds can be challenging because of the high elevation and steep terrain. Hunting is permitted from Sept. 14-22. The daily bag limit is two per day and the possession limit is two per season. Hunters should prepare for difficult hiking conditions and be familiar with the area before heading out after this game bird.

Band-tailed Pigeon

The band-tailed pigeon is California’s only native pigeon and is a close relative of the extinct passenger pigeon. They look similar to the introduced domestic or rock pigeons that frequent urban areas. Band-tailed pigeons are often found in mountainous terrain throughout the state, using coniferous forests as well as oak woodlands, but populations are migratory and movements can be unpredictable.

The northern California hunt zone season runs from Sept 21-29. The daily bag limit is two and the possession limit is triple the daily bag. The southern hunt zone does not open until December.

CDFW reminds hunters that an upland game bird stamp is required for licensed adult hunters (18 years and older) but not for hunters with a valid junior hunting license. A HIP validation is also required to hunt band-tailed pigeons.

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Media Contacts:
Scott Gardner, CDFW Upland Game Program, (916) 801-6257
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988