Protecting Habitat and Motorist Safety on California Highway
March 2, 2017, Fremont, California, The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County and the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose finalized an environmental easement to protect 173 acres of forested property west of Highway 17 at Laurel Curve. The easement represents the last parcel needed to connect bio-diverse habitat and protect motorists’ safety. Combined with two properties east of the highway protected by the Trust last year, the easement prohibits development in these areas in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Trust’s project includes plans to build a wildlife tunnel under Highway 17, which carries over 50,000 daily commuters. Fatal accidents on 17 are highest at Laurel Curve – a site also used by mountain lions trying to cross the busy 4-lane road. A tunnel will prevent collisions with wildlife. Tunnel design is expected to begin this year, supported by $3.1 million in California Transportation Commission funds – with construction slated for 2020.
The Dominican Sisters collaboration with the Trust sought to protect their “Marywood” property, preserving the environment while allowing its use for private retreats. Sister Barbara Hagel, the congregation’s “Care of Creation” coordinator affirmed, “The Laurel Curve project is a huge benefit, promoting the movement of wildlife throughout the county and providing opportunities for genetic dispersal, limited in recent years by freeways.”
Funding for the $1,625,000 easement came from the Natural Resources Agency, the Wildlife Conservation Board, the Coastal Conservancy, and Land Trust donors – and allows tunnel design plans to proceed.
Land Trust Project Director, Dan Medeiros said, “For a project like this, you need land that is largely undeveloped. We are so grateful to the to the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose for helping make this project possible.”
California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird affirmed, “This project demonstrates how coordinated efforts by the Santa Cruz Land Trust, local and state governments, and business and educational institutions can help preserve important wildlife habitat. The Dominican Sisters’ efforts to protect this land is a testament to their devotion to the well-being of creatures great and small.”
Head of the Catholic congregation, Sister Cecilia Canales believes, “This agreement is a beautiful expression of our dedication to caring for our planet at this moment in our history.”
Land Trust Executive Director Stephen Slade said that more than 2,000 donors have given $4.9 million to protect land on both sides of the highway and to help fund construction. Measure D also included $5 million for construction. Slade said, “This community made this a priority with their donations and votes.”
The Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose are an international congregation of women religious. They express their Catholic faith through educational, social justice and care of creation ministries, faithfully responding to the needs of the times and serving “the young, the poor and the vulnerable.”