With a Caltrans report confirming the viability of a wildlife bridge over the Ventura (101) Freeway in Agoura Hills, environmental activists and elected officials pushed Thursday for the state to aggressively move forward with the project to protect mountain lions and connect habitats on both sides of the freeway.
“The public recognizes the significance of these mountains and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve them,” said Joseph Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. “Science militates that we construct the highest functioning wildlife crossing to ensure the survival of our native species — including mountain lions — in the local mountains.”
State agencies, elected officials and wildlife advocates urged the state to provide the much-needed link in an area where rampant development and highways have fragmented once-continuous habitat. The 165-foot-wide, 200-foot- long overpass near Liberty Canyon Road would connect the Santa Monica Mountains on the south with the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.
According to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the freeway has proven to be a formidable barrier for species including mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes and mule deer. The group noted that construction of the freeway divided the habitat into “isolated fragments,” leading to inbreeding, territorial fighting and low genetic diversity among mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Since National Park Service biologists began researching mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains in 2002, motorists have struck and killed a dozen of the big cats.
The proposed wildlife crossing would be 165 feet wide and span 200 feet across the freeway. It would be landscaped with native vegetation and include barriers to reduce traffic noise and lights from vehicles. The project is expected to cost around $30 million.
“It is critically important to provide a safe crossing over the busy 101 Freeway for wildlife,” Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, said. “A secure pathway also is essential to protect motorists, who could be killed or injured by collisions with animals. Now we need local, regional and national financial backing so we can construct the largest wildlife overpass in the United States.”
Scientists have long ago identified Liberty Canyon as the optimal location to build a wildlife passage because of the large swaths of protected public land on either side of the freeway, according to The Times.
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, said the bridge concept has been in the making for more than a decade. He said with the report has now put the goal “within sight.”
“Public support has never been stronger; the ecological need has never been greater,” he said.
—City News Service