I-8 Peninsular Bighorn Sheep Crossing Project

News for Immediate Release
Aug. 24, 2023
Contact: Devin O'Dea, 415-246-5329, 
[email protected]

Wildlife Conservation Board Awards Multi-Million Dollar Grant to U.C. Davis for the Interstate 8 Peninsular Bighorn Sheep Crossing Project

Sacramento, California – The Wildlife Conservation Board has voted to approve a $5.8 million dollar grant to the University of California, Davis (U.C. Davis). The grant will fund the planning and design of a wildlife crossing aiming to provide safe passage for Peninsular bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, and other wildlife species across Interstate 8 (I-8) in Imperial County, California. This visionary initiative aims to create a safe crossing for wildlife to traverse I-8, enhancing public safety and connected landscapes.

I-8 bisects the Peninsular Mountain range, impeding important seasonal and daily movement of Federally Endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep and other wildlife species with its high rates of traffic. The project area includes a 5-mile stretch of critical habitat in between the East and Westbound lanes of the Interstate where the In Ko Pah ewe group of sheep returns every year to have their lambs. The existing and increasing traffic on I-8 threatens the survival of these ewes and their new lambs and impedes seasonal migration for other Peninsular bighorn sheep.

Recognizing the urgency of protecting wildlife habitats and ensuring the safety of both wildlife and commuters, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the California Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, Caltrans, California State Parks, the U.C. Davis Road Ecology Center and Wildlands Network, partnered to advance efforts to connect habitats for a variety of wildlife. The collaborative effort promises to improve permeability and facilitate wildlife movement on the landscape.

“Several locations along I-8 in the project area have been identified as having high incidences of wildlife-vehicle collisions,” says Fraser Shilling, PhD, Director of the U.C. Davis Road Ecology Center, “Wildlife crossings and associated fencing could reduce the costly and dangerous occurrence of these collisions.”

The UC Davis Road Ecology Center proposes to investigate and plan for construction of an overcrossing and/or undercrossing structures and directional fencing to funnel wildlife to safe crossing locations. Project planners will utilize over a decade of movement data from GPS collared sheep, lambing locations and mortality data from within the project site, existing feasibility studies and the best available tools and science to choose a location that addresses the barrier impact of I-8.

The design, led by the U.C. Davis Road Ecology Center, in collaboration with private, local, state, and federal stakeholders and experts, will cater to the specific needs of bighorn sheep, pumas, and other wildlife, ensuring a functional and effective crossing. As the project progresses, the involved parties will engage with local stakeholders, transportation authorities, and wildlife experts, ensuring comprehensive community involvement and project success.

 "This isn’t just about wanting to improve hunting grounds, since Peninsular bighorn sheep are a federally listed, endangered species.” Says Devin O'Dea, California Chapter Coordinator, for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers “This is about restoring critical dispersal routes and movement pathways for a sub-species on the brink of extinction.”

This innovative solution will enable wildlife to safely navigate their preferred migratory routes, access essential resources, and adapt to changing environmental conditions, thus promoting biodiversity and ecological resilience.

“Constructing a wildlife crossing on I-8 is a crucial investment in preserving biodiversity and ensuring the survival of bighorn sheep, mule deer, and other iconic species,” said Mari Galloway, California Program Director for Wildlands Network, “To reconnect fragmented habitats and mitigate the risks of road collisions, project partners are contributing knowledge and expertise to advance wildlife crossing structures that will safeguard and connect ecosystems.”

Moreover, this collaborative project addresses the pressing issue of public safety along the busy highway. The dedicated wildlife crossing will significantly reduce the risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions in the project area, enhancing the protection of drivers and passengers while minimizing damage to vehicles and infrastructure.

Once completed, the wildlife crossing structures will be shovel-ready, pending funding for construction. Its success will not only alleviate one of CDFW’s priority barriers to movement for wildlife but will also provide resiliency for wildlife survival and movement in the face of a changing climate.

For more information about the project, go to I-8 wildlifecrossing.org

About Devin O'dea

Devin grew up abalone diving, spearfishing, and backpacking in CA before discovering a love of bowhunting and wing shooting. He worked as a marketing manager for a carbon division of Mitsubishi, but the allure of adventure and wild places led him to BHA