The county of Los Angeles is well-known for its substantial mountain lion population. However, large-scale infrastructure development has resulted in the region developing multiple isolated habitats crisscrossed by roads. As such, the mountain lions that attempt to cross the road to get to the other side are often at risk of being hit by vehicles. This all is set to change as LA is planning to have the world’s biggest wildlife overpass.
The LA wildlife crossing
The overpass is being funded by the “Save LA Cougars” organization, the National Wildlife Federation, and thousands of individual donors. Collectively, they have raised around US$15 million. The proposed wildlife crossing will be 165 feet long and pass over the 101 highway in Liberty Canyon.
“We know from science what’s going on there, and it’s a little deeper than just that the animals are getting hit by cars… They are becoming genetically isolated, because animals cannot move into the small islands of habitat that are created by our freeways,” Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation said to Fast Company.
The design of the wildlife crossing is in its final stages. If the fundraising successfully meets the project requirements, groundbreaking is scheduled to happen in 2021. Since the estimated cost is around US$87 million and only US$15 million has been raised, the project needs to raise US$62 million more to come to fruition. To ensure that the overpass remains shaded and silent, it will be covered with vegetation, including extra-dense trees. This should make the animals feel safe and secure when crossing it.
Many believe that the project is one of the few hopes to prevent the mountain lion population in the region from going extinct. The area where the crossing will be built is recognized as one of the 36 biodiversity hotspots in the world. The overpass will extend above 10 lanes of the freeway, which sees 300,000 cars pass through every single day. One of the members of the design team is Living Habitats LLC. The company has already begun collecting seeds, mushrooms, and acorns that will eventually be planted on the overpass.
Wildlife crossings around the world
One of the main aims of a wildlife crossing is to ensure that the animal population in a region grows in numbers. When roads are built, habitats get split into many regions, thereby cutting off animals from one another. And if these animals do not cross the roads, their numbers can eventually dwindle due to lack of breeding. Research from the Humane Society of the United States shows that the Netherlands has substantially boosted its badger population by setting up over 600 tunnels under minor and major roads.
The world’s first overland wildlife crossing was built in France in the 1950s. Since then, many countries have built such crossings to protect their wildlife populations. In the U.S. alone, thousands of wildlife crossings have been constructed in the past three decades. Such structures have helped to protect bighorn sheep in Colorado, Florida panthers in Florida, mountain goats in Montana, desert tortoises in California, and so on.
There have been questions raised as to whether such crossings do help the animal population remain safe and grow. After all, just because one has been constructed does not mean that animals will use it to get to the other side. This is especially true when these creatures are far away from the crossing and are unlikely to travel to it.