A few weeks ago, carcass of a mountain lion was found on Pacific Coast Highway in the Los Angeles area. The lion turned out to be P-104, who was collared just two weeks ago for a study. Ana Beatriz Cholo, a spokesperson for the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, said, “It just further confirms that road mortalities are a leading cause of death for mountain lions.” P-104 was the 25th mountain lion to be killed by a vehicle since the study began in 2002.
Soon there will be a solution to these accidents. On another road along the western coast, 101 freeway in the Los Angeles area, the world’s biggest wildlife overpass is coming up. Construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing will start on Earth Day, Friday, April 22.
Spanning over ten lanes of the 101 freeway in the Los Angeles area, when complete the crossing will be the largest in the world, the first of its kind in California, and a global model for urban wildlife conservation. It is a public-private partnership involving many organizations and institutions.
“We’re excited to announce the groundbreaking date for this hopeful and inspiring project,” said Beth Pratt, California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, in a press release. “We look forward to celebrating-either in person or virtually — with people from all over the world who rallied around our beloved LA cougar hero P-22 and the rest of this threatened mountain lion population to give them a future.”
P-22 is a mountain lion that has become a celebrity in Los Angeles. It lives in Griffith Park and has been making news frequently for past 10 years. P in the name stands for puma and the number indicates it’s part of a wildlife study.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing responds to two decades of study by the National Park Service that has shown roads and development are deadly for animals trying to cross and have created islands of habitat that can genetically isolate wildlife, from bobcats to birds and lizards. The visionary wildlife crossing will preserve biodiversity across the region by re-connecting an integral wildlife corridor, and most critically, help save a threatened local population of mountain lions from extinction.
“Wildlife crossings restore ecosystems that had been fractured and disrupted. They reconnect lands and species that are aching to be whole. I believe these crossings go beyond mere conservation, toward a kind of environmental rejuvenation that is long overdue,” said Wallis Annenberg, Chairman, president, and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation.
Robert Rock, a landscape architect with Living Futures in Chicago who led the design, told The Guardian this nature-centered type of construction makes it unusual among other wildlife bridges and underpasses around the world, which are typically made of cement and steel. This one is designed to seamlessly glide into the environment on both sides – and send a message to the people driving below.
US-101 is a 8-lane freeway that runs east-west through the City of Agoura Hills separating the Santa Monica Mountains (to the south) from the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains (to the north).
According to Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the construction of US-101 divided this previously continuous habitat range into isolated habitat fragments and resulted in severely restricted movement between the two mountain ranges. For mountain lions in particular, the consequences of this restriction results in increased inbreeding and territorial fighting, and very low genetic diversity, within the Santa Monica Mountains.
The freeway is a formidable and virtually impenetrable barrier for many wildlife species including mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes, coyotes, and mule deer that inhabit and travel between these two mountain ranges, according to the Conservancy. In particular, mammals with large home ranges such as mountain lions and bobcats need large connected habitats in order to hunt, breed, and thrive.