Wildlife Freeway Overpass Is Awesome, but Don't Hold Your Breath
You're excited about the proposed wildlife freeway crossing, and so are we.
Caltrans and Mountains Recreation and the Conservation Authority this week unveiled a proposal to study the idea of creating the nation's largest "wildlife passage" across the 101 freeway in Agoura Hills. But it could be years until we actually see the thing, unfortunately.
The unveiling includes a cool artist's rendering of what this $30 million wildlife bridge between the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills could look like from above. The idea is to provide an alternative to becoming road kill for the mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes and mule deer who existed here long before we cut up their terrain with concrete and asphalt.
"Habitat fragmentation is an ongoing concern for the plant and animal species of the Santa Monica Mountains," explains the Santa Monica Mountains Fund. "Human development hinders the ability of species to move between natural areas and obtain the resources needed to survive."
Caltrans says at least 12 mountain lions have been struck and killed by vehicles in Greater L.A. since 2002. They're a "specially protected species" in the state.
Experts say that cutting them off from being able to travel freely increases inbreeding and presents a threat to their "long-term viability," according to a Caltrans statement.
Experts have for years recommended that taxpayers build some kind of 101 freeway wildlife crossing in the area of Agoura Hills near Liberty Canyon Road, where a mountain lion was fatally struck in 2013. A tunnel also has been proposed. Says Caltrans:
Scientists have long identified Liberty Canyon as the optimum location to construct a wildlife crossing because of the large swaths of protected public land extending into the mountain ranges on either side of the freeway. The Caltrans PSR proposes that a wildlife crossing is feasible at this location and will help to link fragmented habitats on either side of the freeway.
The 165-feet-wide bridge would need an environmental impact report in 2017, another two years of planning and, of course, funding. A Caltrans spokeswoman said, "We're now talking about 2019, 2020" before the public could see this 200-foot-long bridge of flora and fauna, she said.
And keep in mind that we're only talking about a proposal to "evaluate the feasibility and cost of a proposed dedicated wildlife passage." We're a long way off.
To be fair, Caltrans says it's "about to begin" the proposed project's environmental review state, which already has $1 million in backing from the California State Coastal Conservancy. Another $3 million will be needed for design.
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The National Wildlife Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund are raising cash from the public now. And people appear to be so excited by the idea we'd be surprised if it didn't move forward without opposition.
"The public recognizes the significance of these mountains and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve them,” said Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
State Sen. Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills says that "it's critically important to provide a safe crossing over the busy 101 freeway for wildlife."
"A secure pathway also is essential to protect motorists, who could be killed or injured by collisions with animals," she said. "Now, we need local, regional and national financial backing so we can construct the largest wildlife overpass in the United States."
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