A bridge built in Utah to guide wildlife safely across and over a busy stretch of interstate has been deemed successful, potentially offering a glimpse of a much-anticipated project in the Southland that could aid the survival of the local mountain lion population.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources posted a video to its Facebook page on Nov. 19 showing a wide variety of wildlife — everything from deer and squirrels, to mountain lions and bears — utilizing the Parleys Canyon wildlife overpass over Interstate-80.
“It’s working!” the agency wrote in the post. “As you can see, the 2nd year of this overpass has been successful at helping wildlife safely migrate over busy Interstate 80 and helping motorists be much safer as well.”
Completed nearly two years ago, the wildlife crossing overpass was part of a highway safety project to reduce the number of collisions between vehicles and wildlife on the six-lane interstate, according to the Utah Department of Transportation.
In Los Angeles County, efforts are underway to build a similar wildlife crossing bridge over the 101 Freeway in the Liberty Canyon area of Agoura Hills.
Construction could begin as early as next year, provided funding is secured, according to the National Park Service, which is working with the National Wildlife Federation to raise the money. The bridge, which has a projected cost of $87 million, could be completed in 2023.
The project is anticipated to boost the long-term survival of mountain lions residing in the Santa Monica Mountains, an area hemmed in by multiple freeways and the urban sprawl of L.A. County.
At least 21 cougars have been fatally struck by vehicles since the Park Service began studying the big cats in the region 18 years ago, according to officials. The last reported incident happened Sept. 23 on the 101 Freeway in Calabasas, not far from location of the planned wildlife overpass.
The fragmented geography is one of the major threats to the species’ survival — not just because of vehicle crashes, but also in-breeding that has resulted from the cats not being able to disperse from the region, according to NPS.
In fact, earlier this year, scientists discovered that one of the pumas in the study — a 1-year-old male known as P-81 — had a kinked tail. Two other cougars were also found with similarly deformities, a discovery indicating inbreeding that could lead to the eventual extinction of the local mountain lion population.
“The long-term survival of a mountain lion population here depends on their ability to move between regions to maintain genetic diversity and overall population health,” officials explained.
They said the wildlife crossing is one solution to stave off their extinction in the region.