Supporters rally for wildlife crossing
Fundraising for new corridor in Agoura Hills begins in earnest
Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, September 25, 2014
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 in Agoura Hills.
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.
For starters, mountain lions need room to hunt and breed. 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, which reduces the habitat’s offering. Genetic diversity is a key to the mountain lions’ longterm local survival, and because mating opportunities are limited, harmful inbreeding often occurs, officials said.
Beth Pratt, director of the National Wildlife Federation, said a better wildlife crossing is needed in Liberty Canyon for the cougars to survive. She demonstrated a permanent commitment to the cause by showing off a tattoo of a mountain lion on her upper arm.
Collin O’Mara, Wildlife Federation president and chief executive, said the campaign is resonating with people across the country and that donations are coming in.
“We need to speak for wildlife because they can’t speak for themselves,” O’Mara said.
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.”
Art Eck, executive director for the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, told the audience that everybody was there for the same reason: “to take care of this planet.”
“We’ve abused it too long,” he said.
Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, chair of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, announced that a $250,000 grant from Caltrans will be used for a study on which corridor alternative is best.
Caltrans is also seeking $10 million in federal aid for project.
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.
Officials hope the existing underpass at Liberty Canyon Road will be improved while plans are studied for a wider, more effective overpass for the wildlife.
State Sen. Fran Pavley said wildlife conservation will require a commitment from local, state and national agencies, but the Liberty Canyon crossing must also be supported by individuals. She called for donations from all.
“Let’s protect this land for generations to come,” Pavley 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.
River Simard, a 10-year-old student, wowed the crowd with his commitment to the mountain lion cause.
“So many people think L.A. is a bunch of freeways,” the boy said. “That’s not the L.A. I know. I’ve already seen too much buildings blocking animals.”
River said he had firsthand experience of what happens when habitat is taken away from animals. When developers built houses near his neighborhood in a Los Angeles canyon, possums, skunks and raccoons settled under his home.
River said he learned that mountain lions and bobcats are interbreeding because their habitat is being encroached upon.
“This isn’t right,” he said. “We want the animals for our children and our children’s children.”
For more information about the Save L.A. Cougars campaign, visit http://www.savelacougars.org/ or text WILDLIFE51555.
Visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2-WxJcrCn0 to see a video of the rally.