A black bear’s recent visit to downtown Napa is a powerful reminder that preserving habitat connectivity is essential for the safe coexistence of people and wildlife.
Residents watched in disbelief as the frightened animal climbed a tree before being darted and hauled away by wildlife officials. But as a biologist, I’m not surprised by the bear’s visit.
Napa Valley is surrounded by the Mayacamas and Berryessa wildlands, which host some of the state’s highest biodiversity. As roads and development expand into these wildlands, animals are forced to adjust movement patterns to find food, shelter and mates. Large mammals, including black bears and mountain lions, are particularly affected because they have large home ranges and need significant room to roam.
Black bears and mountain lions also tend to travel along streams, which often lead into developed areas. Without corridors to facilitate movement between suitable habitats, animals can find themselves in unwanted encounters with people. In the worst cases, this leads to people getting hurt or animals being killed.
Improving habitat connectivity can ease the problem. The Land Trust of Napa County has taken a much-needed step by protecting more than 400 acres of habitat next to Lake Berryessa.
But more action is needed in Napa County to minimize conflicts between animals and people. Land use planners and policymakers should limit new development in wildlife corridors. They should also require new project designs to integrate habitat connectivity and build adequate wildlife crossings at existing roads.
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Yet county supervisors heedlessly continue to consider and approve projects located in critical wildlife corridors without requiring adequate measures to protect habitat connectivity.
For example, the county is currently considering the Le Colline Vineyard project, which proposes to develop an area along Conn Creek and Linda Falls. In comments on the project, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife singled this area out as an important corridor where bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and foxes are known to pass through. Le Colline’s 100-foot buffers are too small for wildlife passage—most large animals will avoid these areas because of noise and other human disturbance.
Another example is the Bloodlines Vineyard project, which is slated to be built in an area that the Conservation Lands Network has designated as a “critical wildlife linkage.” Building more roads and fences in these areas is certain to drive wildlife into additional conflicts with humans.
To improve the safety of Napa County’s residents and wildlife, the county should consider projects’ effects on wildlife corridors and require measures that effectively promote habitat connectivity. Doing so will carve a path for our peaceful coexistence with bears, mountain lions, and Napa County’s unique biodiversity.