Saturday, January 28, 2023

A Bear Killed on the Willits Grade Calls Attention to Rural California’s High Rates of Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions

A brown bear dead alongside Highway 101 on the Willits grade [Photograph provided by Shawn Joaquin Padi]

Hopland resident Shawn Joaquin Padi was driving on Highway 101 this morning when he drove upon a dead black bear lying alongside the roadway on the Willits Grade. Last night or early this morning, a driver collided with the animal causing fatal injuries.

Padi took a photo, posted it on social media to give other commuters a heads up, and drove the rest of the way home.

Residents of California’s rural north are accustomed to seeing all sorts of wildlife killed in this manner. As we navigate the long roads of our vast vistas, seeing an animal twisted and pulverized, its viscera spilled on the roadway, becomes unremarkable.

UC Davis’s Wildlife-Vehicle Conflict Map

The University of California, Davis’s Road Ecology Center collects data throughout the Golden State to generate a Wildlife-Vehicle Conflict Map tracking the frequency of animal deaths on roadways.

Their latest mapping makes one thing clear: California’s rural outposts see the highest rates of wildlife-vehicle conflict. In contrast, the roadways of California’s urban centers such as Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Francisco are safer for wildlife.

Data from the California Highway Patrol indicates that in 2020, there were 1,791 traffic collisions involving wildlife. Four Californians died that year after their vehicle collided with animals.

Research from UC Davis’s Road Ecology Center found these collisions cost more than $180 million.

These collisions are common, costly, and potentially deadly. What is being done about it?

In March 2020, the CDFW published a California Wildlife Barriers report where they identified wildlife-vehicle collision hotspots throughout the state and proposed various projects to address those hotspots.

A project in Humboldt County near Orick was proposed to protect elk, mule deer, and mountain lions.

In Lake County, wildlife barriers were recommended in the area of Highway 20 and Cache Creek to protect tule elk.

In Sonoma County, wildlife barriers were recommended to protect the endangered California tiger salamander on Santa Rosa’s Todd Rosa. Another Sonoma County project identified Highway 12 near Glen Ellen as a collision hotspot that required upgrades to protect mule deer, mountain lions, and mesocarnivores.

There were no proposed projects in Mendocino County.

Earlier this year California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB2344 requiring the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work with the state’s Department of Transportation to create a “wildlife connectivity action plan”.

These agencies will continue the work of CDFW and identify hotspots of wildlife-vehicle collisions throughout the state and build overpasses, underpasses, or directional fencing to decrease these rates.

How much will this cost? Estimates range from $1.5 million to $150 million. Will this make a difference? Research cited by the Center for Biological Diversity suggests that wildlife-vehicle collisions can be reduced by 98% when alternative passages are used.

For those of us who navigate these roads daily, projects and proposals by government agencies seem abstract and detached from our day-to-day.

All we can do is practice caution. Guidance to avoid these collisions offered by CDFW includes:

  • Animal traffic gravitates towards streams and rivers so be extra cautious near waterways.
  • These collisions occur most often in the morning and evening hours.
  • An animal near the roadway usually means there are more nearby.
  • Stay aware of the shoulders along the roadway and watch out for movement or reflecting eyes.
  • Slow down and honk if you an animal on or near the road.
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5 COMMENTS

  1. Very sorry to hear this. i always look carefully while on the Willits grade because I remember a mountain lion was hit there a few years ago. Where there are mountain lions crossing, there is bound to be just about anything. You think you’re safe because it’s kind of a high-tech freeway, but that is an illusion.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a journalist for the everyman. Journalism has become a craft practiced largely by the urban elite. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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