Los Angeles officially opens world’s largest wildlife crossing

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Bridges, overpasses, underpasses, tunnels: wildlife and ecosystems have had to adapt to man-made infrastructure for centuries. But now humans are leading the way for wildlife with the new Los Angeles Wildlife Crossing.

According to a recent press release from the National Wildlife Federation, a wildlife overpass will be built across all 10 lanes of Highway 101 at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills, California. Construction officially began in April 2022 and the project is expected to be completed by 2025.

The project is the first of its kind in the state of California, and it sets the stage for future urban wildlife conservation efforts.

Photo: National Wildlife Federation

Additionally, the wildlife crossing will be named Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing for the philanthropist whose foundation donated $25 million. However, the entire project received funding of around $90 million.

“Wildlife crossings restore ecosystems that had been fractured and disrupted,” said Wallis Annenberg, President, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation. “They reconnect lands and species that crave to be whole. I believe that these passages go beyond simple conservation, towards a kind of environmental rejuvenation that is long overdue.

The crossing will be approximately 200 feet long, spanning the highway which receives more than 3,000 vehicles per day. The crossing favors the migration of coyotes, bobcats and deer. And it will even support small-bodied species like lizards and birds.

By providing these animal species with a clear route through urban infrastructure, we can (hopefully) see an increase in biodiversity. And we might even see a decrease in the negative impacts of habitat fragmentation.

Habitat fragmentation in Southern California

los angeles wildlife crossing
Photo: National Wildlife Federation

After 25 years of research, the National Park Service (NPS) has determined that wildlife is greatly affected by habitat fragmentation, which is when natural ecosystems are broken up into smaller regions due to the human activity, climate change, natural disasters or other factors.

Industrialization and urbanization are the two main causes of habitat fragmentation. Unfortunately, to make room for human activity (i.e. infrastructure, developments, etc.), we have driven animals out of their habitats or prevented them from migrating when needed. Thus, animal species have been forced to adapt.

Unfortunately, some species do not see positive adaptation results. Biologists have discovered that the 101 freeway in Southern California has become a barrier. The one that prevented migration and stopped the gene flow of several species, including cougars.

Southern California cougars are experiencing a decrease in population size and a decrease in genetic variation. According to a 2022 study published in the journal Theriogenologybetween 2019 and 2020, researchers identified nine individual cougars “showing physical signs of inbreeding depression.”

Specifically, some cougars experience increased levels of abnormal sperm or twisted tails, both of which result from a loss of genetic diversity. Hence the need for conservation efforts in the region. According to Jeff Sikich, lead field researcher on the study, the new Los Angeles wildlife crossing comes at just the right time.

“This cross is timely, given our recent discovery of the first physical signs of inbreeding depression occurring in our isolated population of cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains,” Sikich said in the NPS press release. “Habitat fragmentation is the main challenge facing wildlife here.”

Fortunately, the new infrastructure aims to reverse the damage that animal species are facing due to habitat fragmentation. And hopefully, we’ll see more wildlife crossings or conservation efforts around the world.


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