The wildlife corridor Gaviota residents have been demanding of Caltrans for two years is starting to take shape as Caltrans begins a series of stakeholder meetings to outline possible projects. The carcasses of bear, deer, squirrels, birds, and reptiles are regularly smeared onto Highway 101, which divides the coast from the mountains. Finding endangered mountain lions dead at Gaviota Pass upped the ante for all involved, and the first of four meetings will take place on December 2, Caltrans’ John Olejnik told the Board of Supervisors last week.
A scientific and technical consultant group, ICF Jones & Stokes, will conduct the study over the next year at a cost of $327,000, Caltrans spokesperson Jim Shivers said. Caltrans could not specify the study methods, but needs and locations were among them, said Doug Campbell of the Coastal Ranches Conservancy. His group appealed a Caltrans culvert project in 2020, asserting it could fulfill the need for a wildlife passage at a spot where animals regularly became roadkill. Creating a corridor there would cost millions more, Caltrans stated, instead substituting this study to determine the best location for a wildlife corridor in the Gaviota area.
Campbell believed the study would involve spotting wildlife on remote cameras and examining the existing tunnels and culverts to see if any could be improved to accommodate wildlife. He also acknowledged the need for funding the passageway. Recent crossings built in Santa Cruz County and along State Route 46 between San Luis Obispo and Kern counties were partly funded by nonprofit groups.
The stakeholder group includes the Coastal Ranches Conservancy, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Santa Barbara County and the Association of Governments, State Parks, Fish & Wildlife, Coastal Commission, and Chumash individuals from Santa Ynez and the Coastal Band. Members of the public who wish to take part may contact the county or Caltrans District 5, Shivers said.