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