Irvine Ranch Conservancy (IRC) in collaboration with Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), CalTrans, California State Parks, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are improving wildlife connectivity in Orange County’s urban wildlands by enhancing a decommissioned off-ramp in Coal Canyon under the 91 freeway (SR-91). The five-year project was put in place to help improve connectivity between the Santa Ana Mountains, Irvine Ranch Open Space, and Chino Hills State Park, providing a safe passage point for wildlife to cross the freeway.
“Due to its convenient location and connection to multiple parks and open spaces, Coal Canyon is one of the main crossing points for wildlife between the Santa Ana Mountains and Chino Hills State Park,” said IRC Project Manager Collin Raff. “A big emphasis on enhancing the crossing under the 91 freeway is to ensure safe passage for wildlife, such as mule deer, bobcats, and mountain lions which are known to travel long distances.”
The Coal Canyon wildlife crossing is a former freeway exit on SR-91 that was decommissioned for public use in 2002 and was deemed as a potential pathway for wildlife to safely travel across the freeway. To help enhance the area, IRC’s Habitat Restoration and Enhancement team was contracted to plant and maintain approximately 250 container plants to reduce bare ground and provide needed vegetative cover for small and large mammals, and reptiles. To do this, the IRC team carefully selected a native plant palette that was suited for the site and would provide the necessary cover for wildlife. The team began planting in 2017, with plans to maintain the site until December 2022 when it will be fully established and self-sustaining.
In addition to enhancing the area with native plant life, IRC’s Monitoring and Research team were responsible for installing and monitoring seven wildlife cameras to track movement through the crossing. Installed in 2017, the cameras will provide data over the five-year project period that will then be analyzed by IRC and its collaborators. Data collected from the cameras will also provide insight into the potential impact working vehicles driving near the underpass have on wildlife using the crossing.
The Coal Canyon wildlife crossing project is set for completion in December of 2022 after five years of restoration work and monitoring. After the wildlife camera data is analyzed, officials from the various stakeholders will determine if additional improvements need to be made.
For more information about the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, visit IRConservancy.org.