In conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) constructed the Willits Bypass Project (Project). The Project is a new section of U.S. Highway 101 (US 101) that bypasses the City of Willits in Mendocino County. This complex and controversial Project realigned US 101 with a bypass around the City of Willits. The new roadway affected endangered species and state and federally regulated resources.
The bypass Project resulted in significant impacts to natural resources in and adjacent to Caltrans’ right-of-way. To compensate for impacts to this Project, Caltrans had to provide mitigation efforts for the impacts caused to riparian and oak woodland habitat, jurisdictional wetlands and other waters of the United States, and special-status plants and fish.
As part of the bypass Project’s compensatory mitigation, Caltrans set aside 37 sites in Little Lake Valley totaling more than 2,000 acres for offsite mitigation efforts, making this Project one of the largest public wetland mitigation projects in California. Offsite mitigation efforts included restoration, creation, enhancement, and protection to compensate for direct impacts to natural resources. Mitigation efforts also included mapping and controlling the spread of noxious and invasive plants. Due to the sensitivity of the Project area, all non-native species control will be via mechanical methods; no herbicides or chemicals will be permitted.
AECOM is the lead engineering firm responsible for providing long-term mitigation and monitoring. WRECO biologists have been contracted as a sub-consultant on the Willits enhancement and restoration project as part of a performance monitoring program that includes vegetation cover, special-status plant species, and plant survival surveys, California Rapid Assessment Method surveys, aerial surveys, stream bioassessment surveys, and groundwater monitoring.
This Project has a focus on preserving and enhancing endangered species populations including Baker’s meadow foam (limnanthes bakeri) and North coast semaphore grass (Pleuropogon hooverianus) as well as endangered fish such as the Coho salmon. WRECO’s biologists have been working to conduct botanical surveys including upland oaks trees, native shrubs, and other herbaceous vegetation within the mitigation areas.