Crossing this Busy California Interstate Could Get Safer for Mountain Lions

Because they’ve become so isolated due to busy freeways and urban development, many of Southern California’s mountain lions are facing the sad but all-too-true possibility of becoming extinct within just 50 years.

Fortunately, California is taking steps to help prevent this from happening. In the Los Angeles area, a $55 million, 165-foot-wide vegetated bridge is in the works that will cross the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills. Since 2002, 18 mountain lions have been killed trying to get across the 101 and other roadways in the area.

The bridge is expected to be completed by 2022. The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) is covering 20 percent of the cost, while the other 80 percent needs to be paid for with corporate and private donations.

The National Wildlife Federation is leading efforts to collect this money in what it called “one of the most ambitious fundraising campaigns ever held on behalf of local wildlife.”

About 125 miles southeast of Agoura Hills, mountain lions are facing a similar challenge. In Rainbow Canyon near Riverside County, they must cross busy Interstate 15 to travel between the Santa Ana and Palomar mountain ranges.

Last year at least three mountain lions were struck by vehicles in Rainbow Canyon. Over a 15-year period, genetic analyses of 146 mountain lions found that only seven of them were able to make it safely across the interstate, according to a study by the Nature Conservancy.

“Urban and rural development remain a threat to what remains of the linkage, and I-15 and associated development, as well as secondary roads, have formed an apparent partial or complete barrier to east/west movement for wildlife and plants,” the study concluded, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Nature Conservancy has recently taken a major step to remove this barrier. The nonprofit organization purchased 73 acres of land next to I-15 that are directly across the interstate from the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve. The next step will be to either build a wildlife bridge over the traffic lanes or to dig a tunnel beneath them.

Fewer than 30 mountain lions currently make their homes in the Santa Ana mountains along the border of Riverside and Orange counties, and most of them are inbred. Because of this, they have among the lowest genetic variability of all mountain lions in California.

“That makes them more susceptible to disease, and that could be catastrophic for the mountain lion population,” Cara Lacey, associate program director at the Nature Conservancy, told KGTV.

With a safe corridor across Interstate 15, that dwindling population would be able to mingle and reproduce with healthier mountain lions in the Palomar mountains. Among the wildlife that will benefit from the corridor are “mountain lions all the way down to frogs, raccoons, deer and also plants,” Lacey told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Now that the Nature Conservancy has taken its first big step to make this corridor a reality, it is working with partners to come up with a cost-effective design. Workshops to get the public’s input are planned for next year. The final design will then be presented to CalTrans, and construction should begin soon after that.

Like the wildlife bridge across the 101 Freeway, the funding for the Interstate 15 corridor, which is also expected to cost millions of dollars, may need to be provided mostly by corporate and private donations. The Nature Conservancy expects to meet its fundraising goal for the 101 Freeway crossing, and hopefully donors will be just as generous for the Interstate 15 corridor.

Take Action

Want to help protect California’s mountain lion population? Sign the petition urging Caltran to build this much-needed wildlife bridge as soon as possible.

If you want to help support a cause you care about, create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.

 

Photo credit: Wildfaces

81 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

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John J
John J2 months ago

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John J
John J2 months ago

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Marie W
Marie W7 months ago

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssuesabout a year ago

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssuesabout a year ago

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssuesabout a year ago

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssuesabout a year ago

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssuesabout a year ago

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