Caltrans Weighs Wildlife Bridge Over 101 Freeway

The proposal is aimed in part at increasing the genetic diversity of the local mountain lion population

Caltrans officials reached out Thursday for public comment on a proposal to build a wildlife crossing over the Ventura (101) Freeway in the Agoura Hills area in an effort to bolster the genetic diversity of mountain lions and other animals living in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Caltrans has released an initial study and environmental assessment of the proposed landscaped bridge, which is being considered in the Liberty Canyon area. Proponents have said the crossing is needed to improve the mobility of wildlife across the freeway, which serves as a natural barrier to animals and isolates populations north and south of the roadway.

The resulting isolation has led to an increasing problem of inbreeding among the mountain lion population and lack of genetic diversity. A study released last year concluded that without an increase in genetic diversity, the mountain lions in the Santa Monica range are facing possible extinction within 50 years.

The crossing is also billed as a way of preventing injuries to motorists and the deaths of animals who are struck by vehicles trying to cross the freeway.

The proposed Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing would be the first of its kind in California. Caltrans officials said no public funds would be diverted from highway projects to pay for the crossing. Fundraising efforts are already under way by the National Wildlife Federation and Santa Monica Mountains Fund.

A copy of the initial Caltrans report is available online at the California Department of Transportation website. A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 12 at King Gillette Ranch Auditorium, 26800 Mulholland Highway in Calabasas.

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