California bill aims to improve wildlife connectivity and public safety

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SACRAMENTO, California— Assembly Members Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) and Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) introduced a bill Wednesday that would prioritize railroad crossings and other infrastructure projects that improve the connectivity of the wildlife and make California roads safer.

The Highway Safety and Wildlife Protection Act would require Caltrans to identify impediments to wildlife movement before planning and designing transportation projects. Caltrans should also implement at least 10 projects per year that improve wildlife connectivity.

The habitat of the state’s most iconic species, including cougars, desert tortoises and California tiger salamanders, has been fragmented by roads, highways and development. This fragmentation has led to inbreeding and genetic isolation of many susceptible species. Assembly Bill 2344 would prioritize efficient wildlife crossings so animals can move around and find mates.

“P-22 is no match for your Prius on the 101,” Friedman said. “We know the toll of wildlife and vehicle collisions every year, yet we keep making the same mistakes when it comes to building infrastructure. AB 2344 emphasizes at Caltrans a more inclusive design that can save the lives of people and wildlife.

Wildlife crossings in the form of overpasses, underpasses, culverts and other road features can make travel safer for motorists. More than 44,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions were reported on California roads from 2016 to 2020, resulting in deaths, injuries and property damage, according to the UC Davis Road Ecology Center.

These reported collisions resulted in damages totaling at least $1 billion during this period. Estimated costs could be as high as $2 billion when considering unreported collisions that are documented in insurance claims.

“Dangerous roads for drivers can also be deadly for wildlife,” said Tiffany Yap, D.Env/Ph.D., senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If lawmakers make it a priority to put wildlife crossings in the state’s most problematic hotspots, it will make a huge difference in protecting species at risk.” This bill could help save San Joaquin’s cougars and kit foxes from local extinction.

The Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act builds on legislation enacted last year that encourages coordination between Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to implement wildlife crossings. Senate Bill 790, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, clarified the application of mitigation credits to wildlife connectivity projects.

The new bill introduced by Friedman and Kalra goes one step further by requiring Caltrans to plan and build projects each year to facilitate wildlife movement and improve public safety. Projects, which may be a freeway overpass or a directional fence to an existing underpass, would be prioritized in coordination with state wildlife officials. The bill would also establish a protocol for state agencies to collect traffic crash data and identify areas where wildlife crossings are most needed.

“Giving our cougars, bears and other wildlife the chance to safely cross our roads has repeatedly proven to be a cost-effective solution to reducing collisions with wildlife and related habitats,” said Mari Galloway of the Wildlands Network. .

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