Groundbreaking California set for largest wildlife crossing

Groundbreaking work is scheduled for next month on what’s billed as the world’s largest wildlife crossing — a bridge over a major highway in Southern California that will provide more room to roam for mountain lions and other animals hemmed in by urban sprawl.

A ceremony marking the beginning of construction of the span over US 101 near Los Angeles will take place on Earth Day, April 22, the National Wildlife Federation announced Thursday.

The bridge will give big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe route to open space in the Santa Monica Mountains and better access to food and potential mates, said Beth Pratt of the wildlife federation.

“These types of crosses are nothing new,” Pratt said, noting that there is one outside of Yosemite for toads. “This one is historic because we’re laying it over one of the busiest highways in the world.”

She helped organize the project along with other conservationists and state transportation officials.

Pratt said the bridge will be the first of its kind near a major metropolitan city and the largest in the world, extending 200 feet (61 meters) over 10 highway lanes and an entry road just 35 miles northwest of downtown LA. .

Construction will largely take place overnight and will not require lengthy highway 101 closures, officials said. It is planned to be completed in early 2025.

The $90 million price tag will be covered by about 60% private donations, with the rest coming from public funds set aside for conservation. The span will be named Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, for the philanthropist whose foundation donated $25 million.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom called the project an “inspiring example” of public-private partnership.

“California’s diverse array of native species and ecosystems has earned state recognition as a global biodiversity hotspot. Given the extreme climate impacts, it is more important than ever that we work together to protect our rich natural heritage,” Newsom said in a statement Thursday.

The star of the fundraiser was the mountain lion P-22. Famous for traveling down two highways and making a huge Los Angeles park its home, the big cat became a symbol of the declining genetic diversity of wildlife that is nearly trapped by extensive development or at risk of dying. become traffic fatalities.

Scientists who tracked cougars equipped with GPS collars found over decades that roads largely trap animals in mountains that run along the coast of Malibu and across central LA to Griffith Park, where P-22 settled.

Despite being the face of the project, P-22 is unlikely to use the bridge as it is many miles away in the park. But many of his relatives could benefit from this, Pratt said.

Some 300,000 cars a day travel the stretch of 101 in Agoura Hills, a small town surrounded by a patchwork of protected wilderness that will connect the new crossing.

Drivers in the Liberty Canyon area will drive under the 50-foot-wide bridge with scrub and trees growing on top, merging seamlessly with hills on either side of the lanes.

Architects designed the topography to be indistinguishable from the landscape on either side. High-edged berms and hollows block sound and light from the avenues below.

Wildlife crossings – bridges and tunnels – are common in Western Europe and Canada. A famous one in Banff National Park in Alberta spans the Trans-Canada Highway and is commonly used by bears, moose, and moose.

The bridge in the Los Angeles area has enjoyed near-universal support, unusual for a public works project. The draft paper on the environmental impact received nearly 9,000 responses – only 15 opposed it, according to the wildlife federation.

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