Another Big Step Toward Wildlife Crossing

The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has optioned 280 acres on the west side of Highway 17 as part of its plans for a wildlife crossing at Laurel Curve.

by Hilltromper staff

June 4, 2014—The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has signed an option to buy 280 acres on the west side of Highway 17 near Laurel Curve, a major purchase that, if completed by the November deadline, will help the organization's plans for a wildlife crossing reach fruition.

In its spring newsletter, Land Trust said it will need a combination of grants and loans—and donations to repay the loans over time—in order to make the purchase. It plans tentatively to resell several parcels with conservation easements, meaning development will be prohibited or strictly limited.

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Land Trust bought 10 acres on the east side of Laurel Curve in February. The purchases are ways of fending off development. Caltrans, which will be the entity to construct the box-style culvert currently envisioned for the crossing, wants assurance that property on either side of the crossing will remain undeveloped. One reason Land Trust targeted the 280-acre swath is that analysis in its own Conservation Blueprint, completed in 2011, showed it as ripe for a housing development.

The presence of rural neighborhoods (think of Redwood Estates or Aldercroft Heights) means fences, pets, lights and even light livestock like goats in areas previously used by wildlife. Not only can those human-made features discourage deer, pumas and other creatures from using the areas as corridors, they can also ignite human/wildlife conflicts. Mountain lions, for example, are drawn to goats and even household pets as easy prey—which in turn leads to depredation, or the killing of predators, often with permission by the state. Land Trust reports that depredation is the number one cause of puma deaths in California, with car collisions being the second.

The placement of the wildlife crossing at Laurel Curve is ideal for two reasons. First, it's located right between two territories (the Loch Lomond area and Forest of Nisene Marks State Park) that are heavily used by mountain lions. Second, all the other existing culverts beneath Highway 17 are either too small or else located in heavily populated areas, according to Land Trust.