Enhancing ecological connectivity and safe passage for wildlife on highways between the southern Santa Cruz Mountains, Gabilan Range and Diablo Range in California.

In California, the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains has important ecological connections to both the Gabilan Range to the south and the Diablo Range to the east. From 2018 to 2020, POST partnered with Pathways for Wildlife and other consultants to conduct a study assessing ecological connectivity between these mountain ranges, which are connected through narrow swaths of habitat interspersed with a variety of agricultural lands, industrial and residential uses, and a number of highways.

wildlife crossings - POST
The southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains is connected to the neighboring Gabilan and Diablo Ranges by tenuous and vulnerable strips of habitat. We are working to understand how wildlife are navigating this landscape, particularly the numerous highways, so that we can work to protect them.
One of the largest culverts in the study area, used by a coyote to travel between expansive habitat areas on either side of Highway 156.

Protecting and restoring ecological connectivity between areas of core habitat in these mountain ranges is a high priority for regional conservation efforts and is essential to sustain ecological processes and allow adaptation to climate change. These connections facilitate wildlife movement, dispersal and migration of individuals and species. However, highways and roads, along with development, are major barriers to wildlife movement in this important region, requiring more information to inform conservation investments.

Our monitoring efforts are helping develop our understanding of the big picture health of this landscape and how we can better facilitate the survival of a range of species, such as this long-tailed weasel.

In this study, we focused on the major roads in this region to understand where wildlife is currently able to travel safely via culverts and bridges, and to identify roadkill hotspots. Through this work, we identified safe passages for wildlife that should be maintained or enhanced, as well as sites where new or improved crossing structures, habitat restoration and/or land protection may be needed to enhance permeability. Over the coming years, we will work with local partners to implement these recommendations.

The Study

If you would like to access the study and appendices please send a request to Marian Vernon, wildlife linkages program manager, by email.

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