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Re: Adding Necessary Wildlife Overcrossings to XpressWest High-Speed Rail Project Design

Treasurer Ma, Director Omishakin and Director Bonham:

We write to request that your agencies coordinate to ensure that the proposed XpressWest High-Speed Rail Project (“Project”) includes wildlife overcrossings, which are necessary to avoid the permanent blockage of critical California wildlife corridors resulting from the Project’s concrete barrier walls. The Project requires discretionary approvals from the State, specifically financing (e.g. tax-exempt bonds) and land-use authorizations (e.g. right-of-way).1 State approvals and financial support warrant guarantees that the project respect the state’s interest in affected wildlife. We have presented this request directly to the project sponsors and ask that you make it a requirement.1Bloomberg news reported the $600 million in State bonds issued to XpressWest earlier this year will be returned to the State for reallocation to housing and other projects and that over the next several weeks, the State Treasurer’s Office will be discussing with Brightline the potential for a new request for State bonds. Las Vegas Review Journal reported Brightline will work with California officials to finalize project design.

Your agencies can ensure the Project is appropriately designed to benefit Californians and our world-class wildlife instead of creating a permanently impermeable barrier to wildlife movement. Wildlife species of special status whose movements will be inhibited by this Project include the desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, Mojave ground squirrel, mountain lion, desert kit fox and Merriam bobcat, just to name a few. Wildlife overcrossings preserve the movement of wildlife, connecting populations and allowing individual species to move between habitats. This is critical to allow species to access food and other habitat needs, avoid the isolation of populations and provide for genetic diversity. The need for these crossings has already been identified by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Therefore, we request that inclusion of these wildlife overcrossings in the Project design be made conditions for any State of California approvals for the Project. 

As you may be aware, overtures have been made directly to Brightline, the Miami-based owner of the Project, requesting the company voluntarily propose these overcrossings as part of project design and demonstrate how to construct such projects the right way to protect California’s wildlife.2See 9/18/2020 letter from National Parks Conservation Association to Brightline

Brightline is proposing a more than $8 billion project, requesting $600 million in tax-exempt bonds from California, expected to have an annual operating profit of nearly $1 billion,3See 6/11/2020 Forbes article on Fortress Investment Group, which owns Brightline: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2020/06/11/inside-a-wall-street-tycoons-plan-to-get-americans-off-the-highway—and-on-his-trains/?sh=182631b87a04 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cc6_3uNXcqc and proposing a project that will have devastating impacts to California’s wildlife. Therefore, the addition of wildlife overcrossings is not only the right thing to do, but is financially reasonable and feasible. 

Through adding overcrossings, California can continue to demonstrate its commitment to protecting its rich biodiversity. We ask for your leadership to secure this outcome, and request to discuss this matter with you at your earliest convenience. 

Sincerely,

Gray N. Thornton, President & CEO
Wild Sheep Foundation

Neal Desai, Senior Program Director
National Parks Conservation Association

Pamela Flick, California Program Director
Defenders of Wildlife

Geary Hund, Executive Director
Mojave Desert Land Trust

Ileene Anderson, Public Lands Deserts Director
Center for Biological Diversity

Kim Floyd, Conservation Chair
San Gorgonio Chapter, Sierra Club

Linda Castro, Assistant Policy Director
California Wilderness Coalition

Cathie Nelson, President
San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
Safari Club International

Mark Hennelly, Vice President of Government Relations
California Waterfowl Association

Chriss Bowles, President
California Bowmen Hunters/State Archery Association

Edward L. LaRue, Jr., M.S., Chairperson
Ecosystems Advisory Committee, Desert Tortoise Council

Steve Marschke, President
Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep

Loir Jacobs, President
California Houndsmen for Conservation

Lisa C. McNamee, Co-Legislative Coordinator
SCI CA Coalition

Donn Walgamuth, President
California Deer Association

Wendy Schneider, Executive Director
Friends of the Inyo

Chris Clarke, Board President
Mojave National Preserve Conservancy
Don Martin, President
California Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation

Gary F. Brennan, President
San Diego County Wildlife Federation

Aimee J. Byard, Associate Director/Biologist
Bighorn Institute

Meg Foley, Executive Director
Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Michael Madrigal, President
Native American Land Conservancy

Steve Bardwell, President
Morongo Basin Conservation Association

Frazier Haney, Deputy Director
The Wildlands Conservancy

Steve Miller, President
Tulare Basin Wetlands Association

Fred Harpster, President
Black Brant Group

Corey Thompson, President
Cal-Ore Wetland and Waterfowl Council

John D. Wehausen, Ph.D., President
Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation

Rick Travis, Director of Development
California Rifle & Pistol Association

Philip A. Francis, Jr., Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks

Don Giottonini, Co-Legislative Coordinator
SCI CA Coalition

Kate Hoit, California Director
Vet Voice Foundation

Kevin Emmerich, Co-Founder
Basin and Range Watch

cc:

Stafford Lehr, Deputy Director for Wildlife and Fisheries, CDFW
Chad Dibble, Deputy Director for Ecosystem Conservation, CDFW
Andrew Walters, Senior Environmental Planner, Caltrans
Michael Beauchamp, Deputy District Director of Construction, Caltrans
Mike Gauthier, Superintendent, Mojave National Preserve
Debra Hughson, Chief, Science and Resource Stewardship, Mojave National Preserve
Members of California Debt Limit Allocation Committee