Human Interest

Construction begins in California on world’s biggest wildlife crossing

Los Angeles, Apr 22 (EFE).- Construction on what is being called the world’s largest wildlife crossing, a bridge that will give mountain lions, coyotes, deer, snakes and other animals a safe route over an eight-lane highway, kicked off on Friday in Southern California to coincide with Earth Day.

After more than a decade of public and private efforts, work has finally begun on a bridge – the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing – that will connect the coastal Santa Monica Mountains to the area north and south of the Santa Susana Mountains.

That wildlife-rich region is divided by the 101 Freeway (US Highway 101), which runs northwest of Los Angeles and is one of two major roads that link that heavily populated area to the northern part of the state.

The regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation for California, Beth Pratt, who helped to raise tens of millions of dollars for the crossing, told Efe that the bridge will measure 53 meters (174 feet) in width and 64 meters in length and be the first of its kind located near a major metropolis.

“It’s really inspiring,” she said.

Besides providing a safe route for the animals, the bridge itself also will serve as habitat and a source of food and water for hundreds of species of fauna in the area.

The surface of the bridge will be covered with nearly an acre of native vegetation, attracting birds, butterflies, bees, lizards and thousands of other animals that will make their home on the bridge.

Robert Rock, the landscape architect in charge of the design, told Efe that all aspects have been taken into account, from the biology of the soil and its microorganisms to plant variety. Vegetation-covered walls also will silence vehicle noise and block light.

The bridge is being built after more than two decades of National Park Service studies revealed the need to link highway-divided areas in California that serve as habitat for endangered mountain lions.

Pratt recalled that she joined this initiative in 2012 as part of her work to save those big cats.

She said mountain lions are the animals at biggest risk of disappearing from the area because the highway is a barrier that prevents them from finding a mate outside their pride, thereby affecting their genetic diversity.

The plight of that species in Southern California garnered national and international attention due to a mountain lion dubbed P-22, who became famous for crossing two freeways and making Los Angeles’ sprawling Griffith Park – at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains – his home.

P-22 became a symbol of the dwindling genetic diversity of animals trapped by urban sprawl and the face of a fund-raising campaign for the new bridge, although it is unlikely he will use it because the park is located too far away.

That mountain lion managed to avoid being struck by a vehicle, but an estimated 300,000 wild animals are involved in collisions on US roadways every year, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Up to 400,000 vehicles pass through that stretch of US Highway 101 every day and are impending threats to animals that try to get from one side to the other, Pratt said.

Around 60 percent of the cost of the roughly $90 million bridge, which is scheduled to be inaugurated in 2025, will come from private donations and the rest from public funds that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has already secured. EFE

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