The proposed project will not only provide connectivity for migrating mule deer but will also enhance existing waterways and riparian habitats utilized by many species. Convict Creek is within the project area and is an important perennial stream that conveys water from Sierra snow melt into the Crowley Lake (HUC 8) watershed in the Long Valley Basin.
The existing Convict Creek culvert is undersized and does not allow for adequate fish passage (non-functioning fish ladder) or riparian vegetation connectivity. By removing the existing culverts and constructing a bridge span, the creek bed and channel will be enhanced, and the riparian vegetation will again be connected under the bridge corridor.
This section of the stream is upstream of habitat further east of the project area for the federally endangered and California state endangered Owens’s tui chub (Siphateles bicolor snyderi). Convict Creek is also habitat for CA Department of Fish and Wildlife Species of Special Concern Owens sucker (Catostomus fumeiventris). Willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) which is endangered in California, also have been documented upstream and to the west of the project area in riparian habitats and would also benefit from an enhanced riparian corridor in this location.
Wetland habitats present around Convict Creek will also be enhanced by the project by providing a wider creek bed for seasonal inundation for wetland plants and soils. Wetlands are important habitat for many mammals and nesting bird species and are rare in the Great Basin Desert. This location in the project would restore much of the wetland function in this area to what it was before being inhibited by the construction of the existing US 395.
The project area is also within the South Mono Population Management Unit for Bi-State greater sage-grouse, a California state species of special concern. The wildlife crossing structures may be beneficial for grouse, but more monitoring and study is needed to confirm this.
The project area is also within the Mono Ecoregion of the Deserts Province in the CA Wildlife State Action Plan that identifies Great Basin Pinyon-Juniper woodland and Big Sagebrush Scrub as Conservation Targets. The project area falls within Big Sagebrush habitat. Focal Species of Conservation Strategies within the Big Sagebrush Scrub habitat of the Mono Ecoregion that would benefit from the project would include amphibian species (Northern leopard frog), and multiple bird species (Greater sage grouse, Cooper’s hawk, Northern harrier, several owl species, Prairie falcon, and sparrow species). American badger, mule deer, various bat species, and potentially pronghorn antelope (range expansion over time) would also benefit from this project. The project would improve connectivity for these species, reduce mortality by vehicle collision, and restore wetland and perennial stream habitat along Convict Creek.