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San Clemente Journal

A Walk on the Wild Side

Mar 01, 2022 09:10AM ● By Donia Moore
by Donia Moore

Would you willingly walk into a pitch-black culvert, underground, that could fill up with water from a flash flood or heavy rains, and where you could not see the possible dangers of other predators? Most likely not! Yet, that’s exactly what we are now asking our animal neighbors to do if they want to get across the highway or busy street that blocks them from reaching their food sources and possible future mates. 

To assist the animals with habitat fragmentation, some construction of “Eco-ducts” for the animals to use has occurred. These often go under streets or freeways, but they are also often unlighted or populated by homeless people. Many animals have difficulty finding them or won’t use these thoroughfares except in dire situations. 

One such corridor is located near the El Toro Y where I-405 merges with I-5. The intended wildlife crossing beneath the freeway is 1,100 feet of mostly dark culvert, passing under 17 lanes of traffic, filling with water during heavy rains and frequented by taggers and others. Even staunch environmentalists call it “The Scary Tunnel.”  


In a 2008 study, scientists found that even back then it was rare for animals to use the culvert. A recent study shows that still fewer animals even approach the area these days, probably deterred by subsequent development and increased human activity. Scientists estimate that the system of roads affects the ecology of at least one-fifth the of the land area of the country. 

This is one of the main wildlife corridors in southern Orange County, dubbed “The Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor.” Part of the 22,000 acres of coastal preserve, a relatively large wildlife habitat for Southern California, biologists say it’s probably not enough to prevent the eventual extinction of some species in the area, like bobcats and gray foxes. 

It’s estimated that there are approximately 30 bobcats there and the genetic diversity is very limited. According to a 2012 study, this group has experienced several decades of isolation from other bobcat populations. The same is likely for the area’s gray fox population. This lack of diversity leads to inbred depression which can reduce fertility, leading to the eventual disappearance of animals in their given range. Unfortunately, South Orange County is on track to lose several species of local native animals because of this.

We’ve all noticed the increase in wild animal encounters in the last couple years, especially with our local “singing dogs,” as our coyote population was called by our earliest residents. While many of us love and appreciate our untamed animal neighbors, we occasionally clash on which territory is whose. When that occurs, something has to give and it’s usually our animal acquaintances that are forced to change their habits. 

It’s not that we haven’t tried to live in harmony. Part of the problem, of course, is that we humans insist on keeping favorite animal food sources as beloved pets. Coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, foxes, raptor birds of prey and others can’t distinguish between our beloved companions and a good meal for a den of hungry cubs. Some of us even go further, leaving out bowls of food and water in hopes of helping our wild neighbors through a difficult time of lack. But what happens then? The animals tend to hang around those properties that provide a free buffet.  They begin to be unafraid of the human element and approach a broader and more diverse range of human dwellings, looking for free or easy meals. 

Our constant building and development pose another set of challenges for our animal friends. We try to provide corridors for our wildlife neighbors to get from one feeding area to another. When a mule deer is unable to get to its grazing grounds to feed, it is natural for them to look around for a substitute food source, and your prize roses may fit the bill. When a bobcat can’t get across a busy highway or well-used neighborhood street to the homes of the field mice and other small rodents that it normally feeds on, it’s going to look for a substitute to feed its babies. If mountain lions have had success with small domestic food sources, they are going to remain in that area to catch whatever they can to feed their cubs. One such corridor in San Clemente comprises the areas around Talega and Rancho San Clemente. Another is around Camp Pendleton. There’s yet another traditional corridor in Capistrano Beach. All are hampered by the river of vehicles that crowd I-5 and PCH.


Obviously, none of us want to see this living natural treasure disappear. Nor do we want to keep losing our pets to hungry wildlife, so we need to make some adjustments that might hopefully help all of us. That is where animal removal services come into play. It is our responsibility to keep our pets safe, and sometimes that involves having a wild animal relocated to a less human-populated area. (Don’t try doing this yourself.)

The City of San Clemente can help with problems caused by domestic cats and dogs. Professional wild animal removal is handled by other specialized organizations. If it is an apex predator animal such as a mountain lion or bobcat, it is best to call 911 to report it. Mostly separated by species, there are companies that handle foxes, racoons, opossums, snakes, bats, bee removal, squirrels and rats with humane trapping and relocation. When possible, leave trapping and relocation to the professionals. Below is a list of some of the most frequently dealt with animals in our area. Be aware that in California it is illegal to trap and relocate a wild mammal to anywhere but the area in which it was caught. This is because the animal knows its range for food, water and shelter and could die if relocated in an unfamiliar location. 
Above all, do not distribute poisoned bait on your property as it may end up killing an innocent pet in your yard or in your neighbor’s yard.

The Dana Point/San Clemente Animal Shelter will pick up sick or injured wildlife within our jurisdiction. The Shelter also actively tracks reported sightings of apex predators in our jurisdiction such as Mountain Lions, Bobcats and Coyotes. CALL 911 If you spot one of these animals in an emergency situation. To report the animal sighting, call (949)361-8205 and complete the Wildlife Sighting Report (online at [email protected]).
Lack of access to wildlife crossings can lead to extinction of an entire population in an area. These access points are becoming increasingly common in many of our national parks in the US and Canada, where vegetated overpasses provide safe passage for many species. 
Scientists support wildlife crossings so that animals can safely cross without endangering themselves and motorists. In San Bernardino County, biologists have erected fencing along State Route 58 to complement underpasses (culverts) that are being used by the threatened desert tortoise. L.A.’s first wildlife-purposed underpass is at Harbor Boulevard. It was built in a partnership between L.A County, California State Parks, and the Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority. 

In Orange County, it might be what saves our regional mountain lions. The Laguna Coast Wilderness has been isolated from other wildlands for at least two decades. Federal biologists have found increasing rates of a debilitating disease in coastal bobcats that might signal genetic weakness and inbreeding. Cactus wren populations hard hit by wildfires have become genetically different from other residents in Orange County and San Diego. The remaining birds are inbreeding and nestling survival is low.

There are some solutions on the horizon. One is the six-mile Irvine-Laguna Wildlife Corridor, a partially completed link between Orange County’s coastal wilderness and the Santa Ana Mountains. It will link the 22,000 acres of protected natural lands in the Laguna Coast to the more than 150,000 acres of wilderness around the Santa Ana Mountains, including Cleveland National Forest, Whiting Ranch and Limestone Canyon. But more is needed. The corridor needs to be buffered from too much noise and light as well as intrusion of people and their pets. If you are aware of a wildlife corridor, please respect the animals’ attempts to use it. Their survival is up to you.

Side bar:

Critters, Who Ya Gonna Call?

Racoons in your attic? Bees in your trees? Deer in your beer? Mouse in your house? A bear in your hair?
Did you know it’s illegal in the state of California to trap and remove a mammal from its established home range? It must be re-released in the same area it was trapped in because it has established food and water sources and relocating it to an unknown area could hasten its demise.
While most of us relish our encounters with “the wild side” of San Clemente, there are times when we need a little help discouraging our animal neighbors from becoming too involved with us and our domiciles. Removing these animals from the close encounters we seem to be having more of takes a pro. 

It’s definitely not a DIY moment. In the first place, it may be illegal to mess with Mother 
Nature’s choice of where these critters choose to make their homes. And secondly, it might be dangerous to try to deal with fangs and teeth and claws on your own.

In most cases, this is a job for the pros. To give you a hand with this so you don’t lose one of yours, check the list of licensed trappers below to remove healthy but perhaps annoying wildlife.  
Bats: Animal Control if in residence. If outside, call Western 
Exterminators (888)994-5654.

Bees: On city property call (949)361-831. On private property call: All Valley Honey and Bee (800)650-2022; or Bee Buster (949)497-6264.

Birds: Wetlands and Wildlife (714)374-5587.

Hummingbirds:  Rescue/Monique (only if hummingbird is injured) (949)493-4834.

Racoons, skunks, opossums, rabbits: call The Wildlife Specialist (949)295-6129; or Critter Catchers (949)497-5046.

Rodents (squirrels, rats, gophers): Western Exterminators (888)994-5654; or All City Animal Trapping (877)724-5314.

Coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions: If you are in an emergency situation with one of these animals, call 911. To report sightings, please call one of the following: Natural Resource Division for Coyote  (962)596-3885; or Fish  and Wildlife (858)467-4201; Hotline (888)334-2258; off  hours (916)-445-0045. 

 Sea Lions, seals, dolphin: Pacific Marine Mammal 
Center (949)494-3050. 
To report a dead or stranded sea lion in the harbor or on the beach (949)-923-2281.  

Snakes: Animal Control at Coastal Animal Services 
Authority will pick up snakes. For rattlesnakes, officer will go out immediately. Call (949)770-6011; or (949)492-1617. 

Deceased Animal on the freeway: Caltrans (657)328-6000.

Most of us who live in this area enjoy and positively cope with our animal neighbors. But if they become a problem, there is help available. Just pick up the phone, keep a lid on your garbage, and stop leaving the dog-food out.