Just outside Los Angeles, in one of the most human-modified parts of the planet, a rare coastal ecosystem is pressed against the Pacific coast. The mountain range is home to one of the highest concentrations It is a threatened and endangered species in the country.
For much of the last century, the Santa Monica Mountains were virtually cut off from the greater world, surrounded by seawater and expanse. Highway 101, carved through the range’s northern hills, “has become this impenetrable wall of wildlife,” said Beth Pratt, regional executive director of the California National Wildlife Federation. “And both plants and animals need movement to be flexible and survive.”
This spring, construction crews in Southern California are expected to open up the ground for a solution: a 200-foot bridge, complete with light reflectors, noise suppressors, and nursery-raised willow seedlings. The wildlife crossing will be the largest and most expensive of its kind, spanning ten busy lanes and reconnecting the cut-off landscape.
“You will witness this environmental transformation,” said Pratt, who has spent the past decade raising funds for the project. “And this part of it will be on one of the busiest highways in the world – and that, to me, is just a hopeful statement of what can be achieved.”
“We can recover a highway.”
Wildlife crossings were shown, such as the kind planned in Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills species help Navigating a fragmented world. There are nearly a thousand of these structures in the United States, according to transit advocates. Bridges, tunnels, canals and tunnels.
In Wyoming, flyovers help with maintenance 6000 year old migration route for the fork.
And in Utah, flyovers allow large mammals such as moose to move across major highways.
Underpasses and canals in Florida allow otters and alligators to move between habitats.
Soon there could be more. For the first time ever, Congress has made a significant investment in Wildlife Crossing, committing $350 million in a recently passed bipartisan infrastructure package to a wildlife crossing pilot program that will help fund projects in all 50 states.
“Unlike many of the problems we face today, there really are these solutions to make roads safer for people and wildlife,” said Renee Callahan, CEO of ARC Solutions, a group that researches and encourages crossings. “And we can build it tomorrow.”
Millions of miles of roads are helping drive animals to extinction
Up to one million species are at risk of extinction – many in a matter of decades – Because of human activities. Climate change, development, pollution, deforestation, overfishing and hunting are all driving the crisis.
Roads are a major part of that.
It is estimated that up to a million animals murdered in the United States roads every day. And not all squirrels are deer. A DOT report identified 21 threatened or federally endangered species directly at risk Right next to our streets, including the desert tortoise and the Florida tiger.
Just look at the US roadmap. The landmass crisscrossed and divided, fragmented like a broken windshield, with more than 4 million miles of road.
A mountain lion walks under Interstate 405 in California. A second mountain lion was killed on the highway shortly after.
“There isn’t a large area of land that is not affected in some way by roads and traffic,” said Marcel Hojser, a road ecologist at the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University.
For many species and people, the effect is direct in the literal sense of the word. But roads can also kill in more subtle ways, degrading habitats on both sides of their path and impeding movement.
Along Highway 101, in Southern California, the latter is causing extinction.
Last year, mountain lion researchers began noticing something troubling in the big cats they were studying in the Santa Monica Mountains. Mountain lions have been seen on game cameras and in person with twisted tails. Others had something called cryptorchidism, in which one or both testicles failed to descend during puberty.
And Audra Havemeyer, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, went even further, completing post-mortem analyzes of five deceased males. “All five individuals that we sampled were showing what we call tratospermia, which is a form of reduced fertility,” she said.
The results were The first documented signs of childbirth Inbreeding in cougars has long been isolated. Isolated in a 40-mile mountain range, mountain lions mate with their kin. They have been for some time.
The roads are fragmenting the mountain lion habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains, affecting them in direct and indirect ways.
National Park Service
It wasn’t a surprise. Researchers had watched hoopoe lions approach Highway 101, bent on crossing from the Santa Monica Mountains to more habitat in the Santa Susanna Mountains to the north, only to stop and turn, frightened by the cacophony of the road.
“We knew there was low genetic diversity,” said Seth Riley, a National Park Service wildlife ecologist. “I mean, we knew even before we started studies that this was kind of a possibility. But we kind of hoped we didn’t get to the point where we started seeing these physical manifestations.”
“It definitely increases the urgency to do something about it.”
The wildlife crossing in Liberty Canyon should help. It was designed to give mountain lions and other species an inviting escape valve, connecting the isolated inhabitants of the Santa Monica Mountains to the larger world.
Wildlife crossings can be safer for humans and save money
A survey of nearly 500 state and federal transit workers conducted by the Western Transportation Institute and ARC Solutions found that the biggest challenge for getting more wildlife crossings is funding.
Wildlife crossings are expensive. The Liberty Canyon crossing is expected to cost $87 million.
Until the recent Congressional investment, Huijser of Montana State University said they had not received the same earmarked funding as other infrastructure problems such as bridges and deteriorating potholes.
Transportation agencies in the United States tend to prioritize projects that address human safety immediately. But Huijser said there is a compelling economic case to build more. “The problem of thinking that it is more expensive to pay for it [wildlife] The projects are that it assumes there is no cost to doing nothing.”
A 2008 Department of Transportation study found that animal vehicle collisions cost Americans $8 billion each year in property damage and associated health care costs. The dollar is approaching $10 billion today, Callahan said.
“It’s basically like we take this money and set it on fire every year,” Callahan said.
Wildlife crossings and associated infrastructure such as roadside fences have been shown to reduce vehicle-to-animal collisions by 97 percent. They can help prevent 30,000 roadside injuries and 200 deaths that occur each year when drivers crash into wildlife.
Wildlife advocates like Pratt believe that Congress’ recent investment in wildlife crossings is a sign that policymakers are beginning to realize these benefits. She hopes that funds for wildlife-oriented structures will be included in future infrastructure budgets from the start.
“A lot of the environmental problems we’re working on, like climate change – are hard to solve. There is no magic bullet,” she said, looking at the peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains from the Agora Hills. “There is magic here.”
“This is a problem that we can solve fairly easily. It just takes money.”