The Central Coast Connectivity Project, Northern Monterey County Linkages: Report on the Mount Toro to Fort Ord Reserve Study 2008-2009
The Big Sur Land Trust contracted Connectivity for Wildlife LLC (CFW), a wildlife research organization, to conduct a wildlife connectivity study in the Central Coast of California. Using extensive field work combined with Geographic Information System (GIS) modeling CFW documents species presence and ground-truths habitat suitability models to better understand wildlife movement patterns and identify lands and waterways that provide important connectivity between core habitat areas for wildlife between Central Coast mountain ranges including the Sierra de Salinas, Santa Lucia, Santa Cruz and Gabilan mountains. Data was collected by camera trap stations, wildlife track and sign surveys and documented road-kill incidents. Results may be used to inform the Land Trust’s conservation initiatives, stewardship and education programs and to aid policy makers and planners in developing compensatory mitigation and infrastructure design considerations that protect and enhance critical wildlife linkages throughout California’s Central Coast.This study began in October 2008 and is ongoing. This report discusses data collected from a monitoring period of October 2008 through December 2009 and focused on the Highway 68 corridor and the area around Marks Ranch, Toro Park, and Fort Ord Natural Reserve – protected lands that sit at the north end of the Sierra de Salinas Mountains and level off to the north into the grassland, maritime chaparral, oak woodland, coastal scrub and dune habitats of the coastal plain along the southern end of the Monterey Bay. Understanding wildlife movement in this region is a priority for The Big Sur Land Trust because of the organization’s investment in Marks Ranch and conservation initiatives within the Sierra de Salinas Mountain Range. Highway 68 separates Marks Ranch and Toro Park from the Fort Ord Natural Reserve. El Toro Creek passes under a bridge on Highway 68 providing safe passage and habitat for wildlife moving between the uplands of the Sierra de Salinas and the lowland habitats toward Monterey Bay.A total of 404 individual detections were recorded using riparian habitat and safe passage afforded by the creek and bridge. Results of this portion of the study conclude that this region facilitates a high degree of wildlife movement. The data collected to date, combined with aerial imagery, habitat suitability models and other GIS tools graphically demonstrate that the narrow undeveloped gap that exists between the relatively dense housing along San Benancio Road and Toro Park Estates serves as an active linkage for animals moving between the uplands of the Sierra de Salinas mountains and the lowland, dune and other suitable coastal habitats of the Fort Ord Reserve and the shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Policy makers and planners seeking to sustain connectivity and minimize negative impacts on wildlife populations in this region should consider development configurations that accommodate existing movement paths for wildlife. Any proposed and future development in these relatively intact natural lands without primary regard for wildlife, their habitat requirements and movement patterns could effectively and completely isolate populations and individuals of such sensitive and large ranging species as the North American badger and mountain lion. The isolation of these populations could lead to their local extinction in otherwise viable lowland and coastal habitats along the southern portion of Monterey Bay.