Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

$90 million freeway crossing for cougars in Los Angeles a world first

He’s the unofficial mascot of Los Angeles who has survived crossing two of the nation’s busiest freeways, ingesting rat poison, and living in an urban area among the Hollywood elite.

The mountain lion, named P-22, was likely born in the Santa Monica Mountains but made the 40-mile journey to Griffith Park, where he roams an area bordered by freeways and is unlikely to ever see a mate.

Images of the handsome cougar have been seen on countless security videos, a National Geographic spread, and in documentaries.

Now his fame has driven a grassroots effort to construct the world’s largest wildlife crossing, 10 freeway lanes, funded largely by private donations. It will connect the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu with the rugged canyon of Simi Valley to prevent an inbred extinction of cougars trapped between LA’s freeway maze.

The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing is named for the foundation that donated the first $1 million in 2016. The project will cost $90 million, with completion scheduled for 2025. The groundbreaking ceremony Friday, on Earth Day, was a who’s who of political figures, including Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has pushed for funding.

Map showing future wildlife crossing
Courtesy of #SaveLACougars

He said the state appropriated $105 million in last year’s budget to replicate this project elsewhere, with another $50 million to be added in May.

Annenberg highlighted the importance of reuniting animal species that risk their lives trying to cross the concrete.

“We can share this Earth instead of claiming it and dominating it,” she said. “We can coexist side by side with all kinds of wildlife instead of paving it over and choking it.”

With its hashtag #SaveLACougars, the campaign crossed party lines, as Californians were all too familiar with frequent images on newscasts of deer, cougars, and other wildlife fatally struck by vehicles on its massive freeway system.

State and federal officials monitor the cougars, which are captured and tagged in sequential numerical order, with “P” representing “puma.”

This July 10, 2013, photo provided by the National Park Service shows mountain lion P-23 crossing a road in the Santa Monica Mountains. AP

P-22’s miraculous journey has not been shared by most, as Southern California’s cougars have shortened lifespans because of attempts to traverse the landscape. P-23, a 5-year-old female, was photographed leaping across the roadway, only to later be found dead near Malibu after being hit by a car.

As traffic declined during the pandemic, by 75%, the number of dead freeway animals also declined, by 58%. Wildlife-vehicle collisions cost Californians more than $1 billion between 2016 and 2020, and 1,500 of those involved mountain lions, the University of California, Davis, reported.

Last week, the Assembly Transportation Committee passed a bill that would build 10 wildlife projects each year and make them priorities. Congress has passed a bill appropriating $35 million in wildlife crossing funding across America. source