California,  Habitat and Ecosystem Conservation,  Quality of Life Benefits of Transportation

Mitigation Efforts Bring Wildlife Back to California’s North Coast

The California Department of Transportation has helped restore a local ecosystem and improved wildlife populations while addressing congestion along a major Northern California highway.

Wildlife mitigation is a necessary result of many transportation projects and California is no exception. 

Completed in 2016, the Willits Bypass Project helped to reduce congestion along U.S. Highway 101 in Northern California.  The project – consisting of new highway, bridges and retaining walls – resulted in more than 280 acres of impacts to wetlands and creek/stream channels, riparian and oak woodland habitat, two rare plants, spotted owl habitat, and various salmon species. In order to address these impacts, Caltrans purchased over 2000 acres, creating the largest mitigation effort in California.

The Willits Mitigation Project spanned from 2014 to 2018. During this time, Caltrans created more than 45 acres of new wetland habitat, removed more than 69 acres of invasive plant species, enhanced more than 800 acres of wetlands, improved fish passage along several stream channels, and planted more than  2.5 million native California plant species.

In 2015, Caltrans began the 10-year monitoring of the mitigation land required by the resource agencies. Data shows that we are on track to meet most of our performance requirements by 2028.

Over the last several years, we have documented a significant increase in wildlife using the mitigation lands. To date we have seen an increase in the local elk population from about 20 individual animals to over 60; an increase in bird species using the mitigation land for breeding and nesting to migratory stopovers; an increase in the population of two rare plants; beavers were documented using the streams and creeks for the first time in 50 years; and a female black bear took up permanent residence on the north end of the mitigation land. The Willits Mitigation Project has restored and improved the eco-system in Little Lake Valley through the dedication and expertise of Caltrans staff working in a collaborative effort with State and Federal Resource agencies.

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