AGOURA HILLS, Calif.
Construction has begun on what is billed as the world’s largest wildlife crossing for cougars and other animals captured in Southern California’s urban sprawl.
Officials held a ceremony Friday to mark the start of construction on a $90 million freeway and feeder road bridge about 35 miles (56.33 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
“This wildlife crossing couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s really a game-changer,” said Jeff Sikich, biologist for the National Park Service. “Today’s groundbreaking paves the way for saving our local cougars and supporting the diversity of wildlife throughout this region.”
The bridge will span 200 feet (61 meters) over US 101 to give big cats, coyotes, deer and other wildlife a safe path to the nearby Santa Monica Mountains. It is expected to be completed in early 2025 and will be named Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing for the philanthropist whose foundation donated $25 million.
About 300,000 cars a day travel this stretch of the 101 in Agoura Hills, a small town surrounded by a patchwork of protected wilderness lands that the new overpass will connect.
The star of the fundraising campaign for the construction of the bridge was the P-22 puma, which crossed the freeways and took up residence in a huge park in Los Angeles. Although he is unlikely to use the reach because he lives several miles away, P-22 has become a symbol of the dwindling genetic diversity of wild animals that must remain almost trapped by sprawling development. or risk becoming road kills.
Scientists who track mountain lions fitted with GPS collars have found over the decades that the roads largely confine the animals to the mountains that run along the Malibu coast and through central Los Angeles to Griffith Park, where P-22 settled down.
On Thursday, a mountain lion was struck and killed on a nearby highway. JP Rose, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said these deaths are preventable if the state invests in more wildlife crossings.
Wildlife crossings – bridges and tunnels – are common in Western Europe and Canada. A famous one in Alberta’s Banff National Park spans the Trans-Canada Highway and is frequently used by bears, moose and elk.
Cara Lacey, project director for Wildlife Corridors and the Crossings Project at the Nature Conservancy, said her organization has mapped other wildlife crossings that she hopes can also be constructed so animals can look for mates and food sources.
“We can do this anywhere,” she said. “We and our partners have a vision for a reconnected California where wildlife doesn’t have to compete with cars to cross the roads.”