Construction has begun in California on what is being billed as the world’s largest wildlife crossing for mountain lions and other wildlife trapped in the state’s southern urban sprawl.
On Friday, April 22, California officials, including Governor Gavin Newsom, held a ceremony to mark the start of construction of a bridge over Highway 101 and a secondary road in Agoura Hills, a city north of Los Angeles.
The crossing, scheduled for completion in 2025, will span 200 feet over the 101 Freeway “to give big cats, coyotes, deer, and other wildlife a safe path to the nearby Santa Monica Mountains,” the Associated Press said.
The freeway, which spans 10 lanes, is a barrier to wildlife, making the crossing a lasting benefit to urban areas’ ecosystems.
The construction responds to the results of studies conducted by the National Park Service, which showed that highways are deadly to animals attempting to cross, thus creating habitat islands that can genetically isolate them.
“This crossing is timely, considering our recent discovery of the first physical signs of inbreeding depression occurring in our isolated mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains,” said Jeff Sikich. He is the principal investigator of the National Park Service mountain lion study.
Inbreeding depression, caused by low genetic variability due to genetic crossbreeding between close relatives, translates into physical effects, including decreased sperm quality. As a result, the risk of species extinction is high.
“Habitat fragmentation is the key challenge wildlife is facing here,” Sikich noted, as the SM Mirror pointed out.
“Today’s groundbreaking sets a path toward saving our local mountain lions and supporting the diversity of wildlife in this whole region,” the biologist added.
The National Wildlife Federation, in an article in March, announced the groundbreaking ceremony day. In addition, California Governor Gavin Newsom indicated that the project is “backed by significant public and philanthropic support.”
The $90 million crossing is a public-private partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and the California government. It is named the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing in honor of the philanthropist whose foundation donated $25 million.
Newsom further said that this work is “an inspiring example of the kind of collaborative efforts that will help us protect our common home for generations to come.”