Highway 17 is a commuter highway with high traffic levels and concrete median barriers at many locations, resulting in the highway acting as a quantifiable barrier and that can result in isolating wildlife in the Santa Cruz Mountains from the Diablo Range and Central Coast.
Isolation of wildlife populations can result in genetic isolation, population fragmentation leading to local species endangerment. Caltrans is conducting projects along Highway 17 and thus can make improvements for wildlife crossing as part of these projects.
There have been over 350 animals hit on Highway 17 in the last 8 years.One reasons for this high rate of roadkill incidents is that Highway 17 currently lacks the appropriately designed structures (culverts and bridges) for animals to cross underneath or over the highway.
This project is intended to inform those project improvements and implement connectivity designs by aquiring funding for wildlife crossing structures such as culverts and directional fencing to guide animals to them.
Goals of the Project
The objectives and goals of the project include enhancing and restoring connectivity in areas identified as critical linkages for wildlife to cross Highway 17 into protected lands managed by the Project Partners. The study sites include; Hwy 17 at the Lexington Reservoir and at Hwy 17 Laurel Curve.
These locations include areas in which wildlife, such as mountain lions, have either consistently attempted to successfully cross the highway and have also been hit by vehicles. Thirteen mountain lions have been hit on Highway 17 in the last 8 years.
We have helped raise over $1.5 million dollars with the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County for the protection of the property on the east side of Laurel Curve with the camera data we have collected on wildlife movement. Multiple species, especially mountain lions, regualry travel through this property to the highway, where Caltrans is planning on installing a wildlife crossing structure underneath for animals to safley travel through.
For more information about the project, POST created a video about the project goals and objectives:
Map: Laurel Curve Study Site
Map: Lexington Study Site
The Highway 17 Wildlife Corridor Improvement Project consists of a multiple partnerships with the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County (LTSCC), Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), Caltrans, Santa Clara County Parks, Department of Fish & Wildlife, and the UCSC Puma Project, Project Lead Chris Wilmers.
The partners in this project are collaborating with Caltrans on ways to improve connectivity by implementing connectivity designs in partnership with Caltrans Districts 5. This will be a multiple county effort .
On a regional scale of importance, connecting habitats from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Diablo Range and Gabilan Range are critical for maintaining connectivity for genetic flow of wildlife species, such as mountain lions to prevent genetic isolation from habitat fragmentation. Highway 17 is a known barrier to wildlife movement and there is a high vehicle collision rate along the highway in which enhancing connectivity for wildlife movement across it is critical and for the saftey of drivers.