Cameras Provide First Documented Use of Laurel Curve Wildlife Crossing
Wildlife, Properties, Projects
by Land Trust Santa Cruz
on February 15, 2023

On January 30th, Land Trust staff were joined by Caltrans traffic engineers and biologists, the Wildlife Conservation Network, and Pathways for Wildlife to examine the new wildlife undercrossing at Laurel Curve. In addition to seeing the undercrossing and surrounding features, the team was there to scope out prime locations for camera placement for monitoring wildlife movement.

Pathways for Wildlife, with their extensive wildlife camera array, originally partnered with the Land Trust over a decade ago to collect roadkill data. The Puma Project at UC Santa Cruz collared mountain lions, providing real-time data. We also leveraged observations of roadkill and CHP accident reports. Within a year, it was determined that approximately 50% of Highway 17 wildlife/vehicle collisions occurred at Laurel Curve. And that’s how it all began.

The main objective of the current three-year monitoring project is to track animals moving through the now complete tunnel, compare that data with pre-tunnel data, and see how the movement of animals is adapting now that the crossing is done.

On the way to the crossing, we walked past the restored oak woodland recently planted by Caltrans—with oaks, redwoods, and coffee berries all starting to grow.

When we got to the site, there were quite a few animal tracks. Some of the first we saw were wood rats under the ledge in the underpass! Then we came upon the tracks of squirrels, deer, and grey fox. It was incredibly exciting to see that wildlife of all sizes are using the tunnel. The photo below shows tracks belonging to a grey squirrel.

The team from Pathways set up the first of a dozen cameras in the tunnel and we moved on to see the other features of the crossing.

While much of the area is fenced to keep wildlife off the highway, there can’t be a gate or fencing where cars need to enter and exit Laurel Road. Caltrans has installed a wildlife mat in this section to deter animals from entering the highway. Wildlife mats provide a light buzz to critters that try to cross and helps guide them away from the open road and back to safety.

There are also several jump outs, which are openings in the fencing that allow animals who do end up on the highway to escape, guiding them away from the highway towards the tunnel.

Now for the really amazing part! All day we had been talking about how exciting it will be to capture the first footage of a mountain lion using the crossing. We didn’t have long to wait for a promising sign. Less than an hour after installing the camera, the camera had captured a bobcat strolling through the underpass! Must have just been waiting for us to get out of the tunnel.

To see to that bobcat move safely under HWY17 and evidence of lots of other wildlife using the crossing is an exciting start to this three-year wildlife monitoring project. We look forward to sharing more updates!