The California high-speed rail project is an 800-mile, electric-powered system that will connect the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Valley to Southern California. This presentation will focus on the 88-mile San José to Merced Project Section of the high-speed rail system that passes through movement corridors used by elk, deer, mountain lions, kit foxes, badgers, tiger salamanders, and steelhead trout. Because the guideway is a substantial physical structure and will also be bordered by an 8-foot-high security fence for much of its length, it could block wildlife movement along the route.
To assess the impacts of the project on wildlife movement, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) prepared a wildlife-corridor assessment (WCA). The WCA first identified focal species for representative movement guilds and modeled permeability under existing, post-project, and improved conditions for each. Where a reduction in post-project permeability was identified, several measures were considered including redesign, modified culverts, and wildlife underpasses. Proposed solutions were vetted through an iterative process involving planners, biologists, GIS analysts, engineers and stakeholders from local government agencies and non-governmental organizations. The final design of the proposed project was modified to include 88 wildlife under crossings.
During the final stage of environmental review, stakeholders presented additional data that wildlife movement along the middle of the section was greater than previously known. Through a robust process of engagement with local agencies, the Authority then also adopted a mitigation strategy that included a wildlife overcrossing to span an existing barrier to wildlife movement, a local highway, to further offset reductions in landscape permeability. This process also allowed the local agencies to obtain additional grant funding for the overcrossing and identify a path to completion, including how to obtain right-of-way and other entitlements. The San José to Merced Project Section provides a demonstration model for studying landscape level wildlife movement impacts and resolving those impacts in collaboration with local agencies and stakeholders with deep regional subject matter expertise.
Our talk will focus on how major transportation projects can use robust science, partnerships with local agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations, and a regional lens for analysis, to protect critical wildlife movement opportunities. Our project provides a template for analysis and stakeholder engagement which is particularly relevant as climate change alters the distribution of habitat, refugia and wildlife linkages that are critical in allowing species to adapt to landscape level change.