California is Set to Build the World’s Largest Wildlife Crossing

This wildlife crossing right outside of L.A. will reconnect long isolated animal populations.

Nathaniel Bahadursingh Nathaniel Bahadursingh

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California state transportation officials and conservationists are currently in the final stages of design development for a 200-foot-long wildlife crossing, which will be the largest of its type in the world upon completion. The bridge will span across the U.S. 101 in Liberty Canyon, just 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, making it the first wildlife crossing in such close proximity to a major urban center.

A rendering of the Liberty Canyon overpass; image via the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM)

This $87 million project is in response to habitat loss induced by the sprawling, ten-lane highway, which restricts and isolates the domains of the region’s indigenous wildlife. As a result, the health of certain animal populations, including bobcats, coyotes, deer, fence lizards and mountain lions, has been greatly impacted. According to The Architect’s Newspaper, Mountain lions are particularly at risk, with some experts suggesting that the local population could face extinction within the next 15 years if access to greater numbers of mating partners aren’t provided. 

The wildlife crossing will provide at-risk wildlife a safe route towards open space with better access to food and potential mates. It will connect each side of the freeway, preventing these creatures from taking the risk of traversing the traffic filled lanes of the 101. The bridge will be adorned with native landscaping and equipped with sound barriers to mitigate the negative effects of vehicular noise on animal comfort. Wildlife fencing will line both sides of the highway to guide animals towards the overpass. It will also reduce emergency response and repair costs due to vehicle, wildlife collisions. 

Artist’s rendering of the proposed wildlife crossing; image via RCDSMM

Antiquating wildlife into artificial environments, however, poses a major challenge for the proper implementation of the crossing. Some animals, such as cougars and bears, can take years to become familiar with these types of structures. Therefore, a lot of behavioral research to ensure effectiveness is required to adequately cater to the animals. 

Wildlife crossings are particularly common in western Europe and Canada with one of the most famous and successful examples located in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. There lies six overpasses and 38 underpasses, enabling the likes of bears, moose, and elk, to cross the Trans-Canada Highway. 

The Trans-Canada Highway wildlife crossings in Banff National Park; image via Joel Sartore, Nat Geo Image Collection

According to The Associated Press, the Liberty Canyon Overpass has entered its final design phase, on track to break ground by 2021 and set to complete by 2023. 80% of its $87 million price tag will be gathered from private sources, having already raised $13.5 million in private funding. Hopefully the successful inception of this project will inspire greater investment in habitat conservation in other threatened regions.

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