Excerpt from The Acorn
Linda Parks from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors speaks in favor of an improved wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon and the 101 Freeway last Friday. Trying to give mountain lions more room to roam in the Santa Monica Mountains while bolstering their dwindling population, the National Wildlife Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund launched a campaign on Sept. 19 to raise money for an improved wildlife crossing at the 101 Freeway.
The campaign, named Save L.A. Cougars, kicked off with a rally in a field at Liberty Canyon just north of the busy highway. Local and state officials, environmentalists, students and residents joined forces at the rally to learn more about what the cougars need in order to thrive in a mountain range lassoed by urban development.
While the Santa Monica Mountains as a whole appear to have the acreage that the large cats require, the hills are cut in half by the 101 Freeway, which reduces the habitat’s offering. Genetic diversity is a key to the mountain lions’ long term, local survival, and because mating opportunities are limited, harmful inbreeding often occurs, officials said.
Seth Wiley, a scientist who has conducted extensive research on mountain lions, said cougars could disappear from the Santa Monica Mountains within 10 to 30 years. Wiley said a 12-year study demonstrated that the range is not “connected enough” to sustain a healthy mountain lion population. “There are only 12 adult cougars in the mountains, and the genetic diversity is the lowest in the West,” he said. Wiley said if a large crossing at Liberty Canyon were built, the mountain lion population could be preserved into perpetuity, a crowning achievement to his life’s work.
Beth Pratt, director of the National Wildlife Federation, said a better wildlife crossing is needed in Liberty Canyon for the cougars to survive. The crossing, when built, will be a model to be replicated in other urban areas nationwide. “This is not just an L.A. story,” he said. “We’ve allowed wildlife issues to become secondary to other environmental issues.” Connecting the Santa Monica Mountains with the Simi Hills and the Santa Susana Mountains, would improve the lives of mountain lions, a Caltrans representative said. “We’re willing to step up to the plate and have large animals in urban areas,” said Parks. She wants the area to become known as a mountain lion reserve.