Safe Passages and the City of Riverbank: Wildlife Connectivity in the San Joaquin Valley, California
The Safe Passages project is a collaborationbetween scientists at UC Davis and nongovernmentalconservation organizations(Defenders of Wildlife, Conservation BiologyInstitute, and South Coast Wildlands), inconsultation with state agencies (CaliforniaDepartments of Transportation and Fish andGame), and is intended to encourage theinclusion of habitat connectivity planning andprotection in local and regional planning insupport of the State Wildlife Action Plan. It wasdesigned to be a model effort, with relevance toregions struggling with finding ways to conservewildlife and natural processes in the face ofdevelopment. One major ecological process atrisk is isolation of wildlife populations andreduction of the permeability of the landscapeto wildlife movement. The project draws uponcontemporary scientific understanding ofwildlife movement, physical connections onlandscapes, and land‐use and transportationplanning in order to better fit developmentpatterns to the needs of natural processes,especially wildlife movement.As its name implies, the projectaddresses the need for finding safe passage forwildlife movement through the diverse regionsof California. Two philosophical choices weremade in designing this project: 1) wildlifemovement is not limited to managed reservesand corridors, but may also occur in the nonnaturallandscape matrix, and 2) that local andregional planners can become aware of and beincluded in the process of conservingconnectivity. In the first case, the computermodeling that was done in this project wasbased on the idea that wildlife might originatetheir movement from anywhere and move inthe least‐costly direction. This results in asurface of possible wildlife movement based onhabitat preference and barriers to safe passage.In the second case, planners in the San JoaquinValley Blueprint process learned of our overallproject goals and methods and a number ofcities or counties expressed interest in workingwith us. We chose the city of Riverbank, in partbecause the community development directorshowed clear interest in using the products ofour work in the General Planning and SpecificPlanning processes.This project has evolved to includemore ideas and potential partners, including theCalifornia Department of Fish and Game (DFG),the Local Government Commission, and otheracademic researchers. This evolution hasextended our project horizon indefinitely with acombination of a DFG contract andcollaborative proposal development. Howeverthe main project goal of setting the standard forhow connectivity can be included in local andregional planning has stayed constant. Ourpartners will help us develop a sea change inthe recognition and protection of safe passagesfor wildlife movement throughout California’sSan Joaquin Valley and beyond.