September 19, 2016

We need to make roads safer for wildlife in California

There are nearly four million miles of roads in the United States. While they make all of our travels easier, roads fragment long-established wildlife corridors and stream habitats. They also cut off movement for marine species.

Animals frequently need to travel between their shelter and food or mates to survive. Due to increased urban development, their travels are filled with obstacles like roads and even highways. That puts animals in harm’s way.

A Local Legend, Lost Too Soon

In central California, a sea otter known locally as Mr. Enchilada, or “the mayor of Moss Landing” recently became a sad example of how roads can impact wildlife. Named after a restaurant near where he lived, the charismatic sea otter regularly crossed from one side of the road to the other through an underground open culvert to get to a spot where he liked to search for food. Once done foraging, he would travel back to his home in the Southern Harbor in the Monterey Bay. Unfortunately, when the culvert was closed after repairs, he crossed the road by climbing up onto the road itself and waddling across to the slough located on the other side.

On July 3, a vehicle tragically struck and killed this beloved local sea otter while he was attempting to cross the road again. And although this one sea otter’s death became a high-profile event due to his popularity, this is not a one-off incident. Every year in the United States, millions of vehicles collide with wildlife, including already declining endangered species. A study by the Federal Highway Administration identified 21 federally listed or endangered species in the U.S. whose survival is directly threatened by vehicle-related deaths.

Making Roads Safer for Wildlife

When we heard about the tragic death of Moss Landing’s favorite sea otter, our California team jumped into action, testifying at the Monterey County Board of Supervisors meeting about our concerns for the safety of the remaining sea otters who live in the waters near Moss Landing Road. We also got in touch with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to collaborate on the best way to address this issue.

To date, we’ve helped to make some real changes for Moss Landing’s sea otters that will hopefully lead to better protections. The county has installed sea otter crossing signs with a lowered speed limit in key locations. We are also working with Sea Otter Savvy, a local sea otter protection organization, to install wildlife cameras in the area to monitor how many sea otters are crossing the road and when, which we hope will give us a better understanding of sea otter activity in the area. Finally, we will continue to work with Monterey County staff and other partners to ensure sea otters in the area remain safe.

We can all help lower the number of collisions by taking proper precautions and watching out for wildlife crossing our roads. For some tips check out our Watch Out for Wildlife page.


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