Dozens of mountain lions live in the Santa Monica Mountains surrounding Los Angeles, but they’ve been essentially isolated in small populations by a freeway that threatens their future survival. Now state officials are back pushing for the construction of wildlife crossing that will help ensure their future survival.
For over a decade, National Park Service biologists have been tracking some of these mountain lions with GPS collars to learn more about their behavior and how they’re responding to human development. What they’ve found is that roadways and urban sprawl have made it nearly impossible for these big cats to leave the area, or for new cats to come in.
Without the ability to expand and establish new territories, they face not only the threat of deadly encounters with older members of the species but also of being forced to inbreed. Biologists worry about the impact and health consequences a lack of genetic diversity will have on these mountain lions without their ability to move freely. In January, a litter was found to have been fathered by a male who bred with his daughter, which was the second litter from the pair.
Conservationists have been pointing to a major obstacle for them, which is the Ventura (101) Freeway. In the last decade, only one mountain lion being tracked has successfully made it across. While wildlife advocates have been pushing for the construction of a crossing, they’ve never gotten funding to study options or construct either a tunnel or overpass.
This past weekend officials from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced that the agency will be seeking $2 million in grant funding to build a bridge over the freeway to help mountain lions cross safely and find new habitat. Supporters also hope that other species will also benefit from its construction, which will help maintain biodiversity in the area, in addition to the hope that it will roads safer for drivers.
“The new crossing will better integrate the environment and transportation systems, fostering better wildlife connectivity on either side of the 101 and increasing public safety by reducing the risk for collisions between vehicles and wildlife,” Carrie Bowen, the Caltrans director for Los Angeles and Ventura counties, told the Santa Monica Mirror.
The proposed crossing would be built in Agoura Hills where there is state parkland on either side of the freeway. It’s also a site where mountain lions are known to have been killed. In January three cubs were killed in two separate incidents at a nearby highway and another male who was trying to come into the area was killed on the freeway when he attempted to cross last October.
While a bridge won’t get built quickly, and there will be competition to get the money to get it done, at least some organizations are showing interest and have already agreed to chip in. Earlier this year the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains agreed to throw in $200,000.
Hopefully officials will secure funding this time around to help ensure healthy populations of mountain lions remain part of California’s natural landscape for decades to come.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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