Tahoe National Forest: Highway 89 Stewardship Team
Just north of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California is a stretch of highway that has attracted the attention of a group of people who have a desire to make a difference far beyond their 25-mile stretch of state highway through the Tahoe National Forest.
The Highway 89 Stewardship Team is an interagency grassroots group dedicated to reducing animal-vehicle collisions and facilitating animal movement across highways through mitigation, research, and education. The Highway 89 Stewardship Team has taken a proactive approach and developed a long term strategic plan to rigorously test new mitigation measures for wildlife. The Highway 89 Stewardship Team’s Goals include: (1) reducing animal/vehicle collisions, (2) maintaining habitat connectivity, and (3) developing and testing innovative solutions to transportation ecology challenges. They selected a section of California Highway 89 as an ‘Experimental Highway’ to explore environmental issues and conduct applied research. The Stewardship Team distributes the results of its research through educational programs for local youth, the public at large, and professionals.
The Highway 89 Stewardship Team was formed in 2002 after several groups working on animal-vehicle collision issues on Highway 89 were encouraged to join forces by the USDA Forest Service (Jacobson and DeLaSaux 2006). The Highway 89 Stewardship Team was patterned after other interagency stewardship teams dedicated to a resource management issue in a given geographic area. The diverse group includes highly experienced natural resource professionals from the following: Sierra County Fish and Wildlife Commission, Sierra County, USDA Forest Service: Tahoe National Forest & Pacific Southwest Research Station, California Department of Fish and Game, California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), University of California Cooperative Extension, UC Berkeley-Sagehen Creek Field Station, California Deer Association, and University of California, Davis. In addition, the team has sparked interest from local landowners and students of local schools. It is the only stewardship team dedicated to finding and implementing solutions to environmental issues on highways.
The ‘experimental highway’ the team selected along California Highway 89 from Truckee to Sierraville on the Tahoe National Forest serves as a unique laboratory for applied experimentation. The highway is both typical and unique. The highway is typical of some 268,000 miles of highways on public lands in the United States, with a moderate traffic flow of under 5000 ADT. The highway is unique because of the presence of the Highway 89 Stewardship Team; the advanced technological capabilities of Sagehen Creek Field Station and Sagehen Experimental Forest nearby; strong local county government support; over 20 years of monitoring data available; and no highway upgrades planned for the next 20 years. The goal of the ‘experimental highway’ is to be able to apply lessons learned here to many locations nationally. State Departments of Transportation have many 'experimental' highways for diverse reasons including pavement testing, materials or other infrastructure elements. However, none have a highway that is strategically situated to develop and test mitigation measures to reduce impacts to wildlife, especially on a long-term basis.
Three Basic Strategies: Mitigation, Research, and Education
Locations and possible mitigation approaches were identified through a habitat connectivity analysis focused on all wildlife species native to the area. The Highway 89 Stewardship Team intends to look at the whole gamut of mitigation options for animal-vehicle collisions, currently focusing on underpasses, novel types of diversion fencing, retrofitting existing structures, and active warning systems. Their first project is an underpass on the Kyburz Flat funded by Caltrans Transportation Enhancement funds. They have completed Phase I of this project, installing the underpass, and have secured funding for Phase II, installing the fence. The fencing phase includes several novel designs that will be tested for durability, esthetics, and cost-effectiveness.
Topics in the Highway 89 Stewardship Team 20-year strategic plan for applied research include testing diversion fencing for increases in cost-effectiveness, durability and esthetics; acoustical modifications for underpasses; developing de-icing methodology to reduce impacts to wildlife; several retrofitting methods including shelves for underpasses and small mammal fencing. Several advanced technology approaches are included in the research program including the analysis of cutbanks using ground-based LIDAR; GPS movement tracking for several species of wildlife coupled with ongoing research away from the highway; active warning systems for large animals: and de-icing warning systems. Research on the interaction of natural resource management and highway issues includes investigation into the effects of roadside thinning on animal-vehicle collisions and changes in barrier effects from increased sight distance. Biological research on animal movements and traffic volume are currently investigated with a 24-camera array with an increased deployment planned to include remote download capability, facilitated by the Sagehen Creek Field Station. GPS-collared migratory deer, soot plates at culverts, and a 24-yr duration carcass database provide continuous data for the animal movement research.
The Stewardship Team has actively used education to leverage the benefits of the mitigation and research components of its long term strategy, in three areas: youth, public, and professional. The youth educational component of the Highway 89 Stewardship Team’s long term strategy is focused on providing added value to the local underserved youth through partnership with county educational departments in the Sierra Nevada region. County educational opportunities have included a Sierra County summer youth program, where students assist in gathering animal movement data from motion-detector cameras and soot plates. The public educational component is not planned long term but includes media involvement and presentations such as the Sagehen Summer Speaker series. An annual college-accredited weeklong session called “Innovative Approaches to Wildlife and Highway Interactions” provides the professional education component.The course has been taught nationally, however this session will focus on updates and specific lessons learned by Highway 89 Stewardship Team efforts.
89 Animal Underpass. 2009. Sierra County Prospect. Available:
Jacobson, S.L., and M. DeLasaux. 2006. Sierraville (California) Highway 89 stewardship team: ahead of the curve. IN: Proceedings of the 2005 International Conference on Ecology and Transportation, Eds. Irwin CL, Garrett P, McDermott KP. Center for Transportation and the Environment, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC: pp. 198-204.
Highway-89 Road Ecology. August 5, 2008. Sandra Jacobson discussing the Highway-89 Stewardship Team Road Ecology project.
Highway-89 Road Ecology. June 25, 2009. Kyburz Flat animal underpass dedication ceremony.
Page Last Modified: February 18, 2014