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

San Bernardino kangaroo rat

CDFW Seeks Information Related to San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking information relevant to a proposal to list the San Bernardino kangaroo rat (Dipodomys merriami parvus) as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act.

In March 2019, the Endangered Habitats League submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to formally list the San Bernardino kangaroo rat as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The listing petition and CDFW’s petition evaluation described a variety of threats to the survival of the species in California. These include direct and indirect impacts associated with habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, habitat degradation, small and fragmented subpopulations, loss of ecological processes maintaining habitat suitability, low genetic diversity and climate change. CDFW recommended and the Commission voted to advance the species to candidacy on Aug. 7, 2019. The Commission published findings of this decision on Aug. 23, 2019, triggering a 12-month period during which CDFW will conduct a status review to inform the Commission’s decision on whether to list the species.

As part of the status review process, CDFW is soliciting information from the public regarding the San Bernardino kangaroo rat’s ecology, genetics, life history, distribution, abundance, habitat, the degree and immediacy of threats to reproduction or survival, adequacy of existing management and recommendations for management of the species. Comments, data and other information can be submitted in writing to:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Attn: Scott Osborn
1812 Ninth St.
Sacramento, CA 95811

Comments may also be submitted by email to wildlifemgt@wildlife.ca.gov. If submitting comments by email, please include “SBKR” in the subject heading.

All comments received by Sept. 27, 2019 will be evaluated prior to submittal of the CDFW status review report to the Commission. Receipt of the report will be placed on the agenda for the next available meeting of the Commission after delivery and the report will be made available to the public at that time. Following the receipt of the CDFW report, the Commission will allow a 30-day public comment period prior to taking any action on CDFW’s recommendation.

The listing petition and CDFW’s petition evaluation for the kangaroo rat is available at
https://fgc.ca.gov/cesa#sbkr.

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Media Contacts:
Scott Osborn, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 324-3564
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

CDFW Steps in to Protect Animals at Wildlife Waystation

On August 11, 2019, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) was notified by the Wildlife Waystation, a wild animal refuge that houses exotic and domestic animals in Sylmar, that their Board of Directors had voted to surrender the facility’s CDFW permit voluntarily and to close the facility. CDFW has implemented an incident command structure to handle daily operations and assist with the placement of animals.Wildlife Waystation 2

As of this morning, CDFW is on site, actively ensuring that daily operations remain smooth at the facility, and is working with animal welfare organizations to place the animals into other facilities. CDFW will maintain oversight of the facility until all animals are placed appropriately.

CDFW’s primary concern is for the health and welfare of the animals. CDFW is working collaboratively with Wildlife Waystation staff to ensure the best possible care during this transition.

The Wildlife Waystation was founded in 1976 and has been operating with a current permit issued by CDFW. The aging facility was extensively damaged in the 2017 Creek Fire and again in flooding in early 2019. Wildlife Waystation leadership is unable to repair the facility to current standards.

Media and the public are asked to please refrain from traveling to the property. The property is closed until further notice and access will not be granted. There is very limited road access and no cellular reception.

CDFW is contacting its network of local and national animal welfare organizations both for assistance and expertise in care of the animals as well as assistance in finding permanent placement for the more than 470 animals at the facility.

CDFW Deputy Director Jordan Traverso will be available for media interviews at the command center at the Hanson Dam Ranger Station at 10965 Dronfield Ave., Sylmar, Calif. until 3:30 p.m. She can also be reached at (916) 654-9937.

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Academy Graduation August 2019

CDFW Warden Academy Graduates 31 New Wildlife Officers

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is pleased to announce the addition of 31 Wildlife Officer Academy graduates to the Law Enforcement Division.

The Wildlife Officer Academy Class 62 graduation ceremony took place Friday, Aug. 9, at the Paradise Performing Arts Center in Paradise, Butte County. The 31 newly graduated wildlife officers will begin the CDFW Field Training Program to put their training into practice under the close supervision of experienced Field Training Officers (FTOs). Three additional cadets paid their way through the Academy as “self-sponsors” in the interest of applying for a wildlife officer position with the CDFW Law Enforcement Division or a different law enforcement agency.

CDFW’s Wildlife Officer Academy is certified through the California Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and offers training consistent with every law enforcement agency in California. Field training with experienced FTOs is also mandated by POST to be sure new wildlife officers can apply the skills they learned during the academy to real life circumstances. The Field Training Program is the final stage of formal training. Upon successful completion, these officers will begin patrolling California to protect the natural resources of this great state.

The Academy has been located at Butte College since 2008 and provides peace officer academy training to California’s prospective wildlife officers. That partnership provided CDFW a state-of-the-art POST-certified academy facility with nearly 50 years of police training history.

CDFW recognizes the citizens of Butte County, and Paradise in particular, for their steadfast resolve to overcome the devastating Camp Fire. Some of those affected by the disaster are instructors, caretakers of Butte College, nearby business owners and employees, and others who keep the Academy and Butte College moving forward. “We acknowledge the efforts of those who trained our cadets while at the same time recovering from devastating losses,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “Congratulations to the staff and graduating wildlife officers of Academy 62 for your accomplishments during trying times.”

Wildlife officers make contact with more than 295,000 people and issue more than 15,000 citations annually. These officers primarily work alone, in remote areas, contacting subjects who almost always have some form of weapon, and they do so knowing that backup could be hours away. Wildlife officers have large patrol districts and great responsibilities, and frequently a sole officer will cover an entire county. The average California wildlife officer’s patrol district exceeds 500 square miles.

For more information about becoming a wildlife officer and the application timeline, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/enforcement/career.

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Media Contact:
Capt. Patrick Foy , CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692

 

CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham, CDFW Warden Anastasia Norris and CDFW Chief David Bess.

CDFW Honors Wildlife Officer of the Year

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Division has selected Warden Anastasia Norris as the 2019 Wildlife Officer of the Year.

“Warden Norris has spent plenty of time doing traditional wildlife law enforcement work, but her expertise in oil spill investigations and response is where she has shined over the course of her career,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “Investigations involving habitat damage from oil and hazardous materials spills are integral to the Law Enforcement Division’s mission. Warden Norris is one of the finest in this regard.”

Warden Norris received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Sciences from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1998 and a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Oklahoma in 2001. She graduated as part of Academy Class 53 at Butte College in 2009 and began her career as a wildlife officer in Long Beach, where she gained expertise in marine enforcement and commercial fishing.

She soon transferred to the CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), where she has excelled as the State On-Scene Coordinator and/or lead investigator for 20 complicated oil and hazardous materials spills. In 2015, Norris was designated the lead investigator on the Plains All-American/Refugio spill in Santa Barbara County, one of the largest and most detrimental oil spills to hit California’s coast in the last 50 years.

The Refugio oil spill began on May 19, 2015. Norris managed and coordinated the evidence and documentation efforts throughout the investigation, including embarking upon a cross-country drive to ensure chain-of-custody and security of a seized section of pipeline in Ohio. She interviewed dozens of witnesses during the investigation. The final 118-page report included support documentation that was an additional 13 inches thick. Norris also provided support for the prosecution and was in court every day of the almost four-month duration of the trial. On Sept. 7, 2018, guilty verdicts were reached on nine counts, including eight misdemeanors and one felony. Even while the Refugio investigation was dominating her workload, Norris continued to respond to numerous other petroleum spills.

“Warden Norris is the force behind major investigations involving water pollution and numerous environmental statutes and regulations affecting our great state’s waterways and ocean environment,” said Brett Morris, Supervising Deputy Attorney General of the California Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the Refugio case. “While away from her assigned beat and her family for over three months, Warden Norris successfully guided to conviction the largest criminal prosecution of corporate water polluters in Santa Barbara County’s history.”

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Media Contact:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692