In the last seven years, fourteen mountain lions have been hit and killed while crossing Highway 17, in addition to numerous coyotes, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and deer. In fact, according to Santa Cruz Sentinel, wildlife deaths are far more frequent on Highway 17 than other highways and freeways. As a result, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz county bought 280 acres of land and will build a wildlife crossing tunnel at Laurel Curve, an area full of local, wild animals.
The overall project will cost about $5 million. Despite the cost, it will be very helpful for preventing collisions, hence protecting both wildlife and humans. Wildlife experts have also determined that Laurel Curve will be the safest location for the crossing. Plus, according to the Land Trust, projects similar to this one have been highly successful in the past. Bridges and tunnels for animals on Highways 1, 68, 101, 152, and 280 have all resulted in noticeably less collisions between animals and vehicles .
Fraser Shilling, co-director of the UC Davis Road Ecology Center, told Santa Cruz Sentinel that “The solution is not to expect animals to adapt to cars, but to build structures that allow animals to cross safely. After all,” he remarked, “the barrier of the roads often confuse animals, and people are not always slow enough to for animals stop on the highway.” This is especially the case with Highway 17 because it splits the Santa Cruz mountains in two. This makes it complicated for animals to find food, shelter, and mating partners.
Considering how much land people have taken away from animals, and how many have died from being hit by cars, this established crossing would be really important for the security of various species. For instance, the loss of just one mountain lion greatly lowers the species’ genetic diversity. According to the Land Trust of Santa cruz County, their presence actually indicates of a healthy ecosystem, so it is important to ensure their safety. Dear also cause about 1,000 accidents a year on highways, not including minor collisions.
Moreover, Shilling said that a car crashing into a deer costs drivers approximately $6,600. Therefore, not only would this project secure the lives of animals and humans, it would also make it less likely for drivers to have to pay for animal-vehicular collisions. Although the tunnel costs about $5 million, a fundraiser took place, and many people contributed to the $1 million that was needed by the end of 2014 in order to make the crossing a reality, and thankfully, enough money was raised.
The building of the crossing should begin sometime in 2016, and it should take roughly four years to complete. Despite the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done, it will be well worth all of the effort. Meanwhile, organizations involved with the project are making sure that the 280 acres they purchased will remain wild, and they are still planning out the long period of work that they have ahead of them. Make sure to keep a lookout for their progress. It is very possible that they will need more help, and supporting this project would be a great thing to improve this community.
By: Lydia Bashor