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Board will consider wildlife crossing over 101 Freeway

Biologists from the National Park Service hold P-23, one of two mountain lion kittens found in the Santa Monica Mountains.
National Park Service via Flickr
Biologists from the National Park Service hold Puma-23, one of two mountain lion kittens found recently in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Conservationists have long called for a wildlife corridor into the Santa Monica Mountains to alleviate the genetic isolation of animals cut off by the 101 Freeway and other busy roads. That project may take another step towards realization on Monday night. 

That's when the board of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is scheduled to decide whether to approve a request by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority for $200,000 to develop a plan for a crossing across the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon. 

Officials with the conservancy said that the future resiliency of resident species depends on an unblocked flow of genetic material. 

“We absolutely have to connect every mountain range to each other across the freeways, otherwise genetically they go stale," said Paul Edelman, deputy director of natural resources and planning for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. 

Edelman said the plans would likely include options for both an overpass and an underground tunnel. Earlier estimates for a similar tunnel placed the cost at around $10 million. Scientists say installing an overpass would be more effective, since animals would be more likely to use it. But that would also be more costly. Edelman said that the cost of installing either option is a necessary price to pay. 

"It’s expensive, but once it’s in, it’s in, and it just does its thing. The animals use it, and it will last for decades and decades,” Edelman said. "The benefits are just phenomenal."

In October, a male mountain lion was struck and killed near the site of the proposed crossing. Car strikes are among the leading causes of death in mountain lions, but scientists say busy roads can also have a long and persistent impact on the large cats, because animals are less likely to approach developed stretches of land. 

Only one monitored male lion has ever been documented to cross the 101 Freeway, bringing fresh DNA into the population. That lion has since bred with his own offspring. Last month, National Park Service scientists announced the discovery of a third litter of cubs in the Santa Monica Mountains that were born as a result of first-order inbreeding. 

Previous attempts to raise funding for a wildlife crossing across the 101 Freeway have failed. If the board approves the funding request, it would be the furthest that such a project has progressed. There would still be a long way to go before construction would begin. Edelman said that even if everything went smoothly, it would likely take a few years. 

Still, he said he was optimistic that it would happen. 

"I've been really pleased and warmed by the fact of how much interest there's been in this. I think that it's pushing along on the road to inevitability here and that people see the light, see the value of this," he said.