The Lion's Eye
Have you traveled on the 405 Freeway lately over the Sepulveda pass into the San Fernando Valley? We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars there in order to increase the flow of traffic as well as the flow of pollutants, congestion and noise into our mountains. That’s where P-18 got nailed. Other lions come up to the edge of those 60 ft vertical walls and turn around and go back to the heavy competition from the older resident lions living in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Every year our state population increases by several hundred thousand. People fleeing cold winters come here to find a warm paradise. People fleeing poverty come here with hope of finding wealth. New houses, new businesses and new freeways are the norm for the most populous state in the union. Even in times of economic hardship, both state and federal funds are spent at huge rates to keep up with our expanding needs for transportation of individuals by individual cars. The number of cars per household is often more than the number of people living there. Our freeways carry an incredible load, 24/7.
Driving along our canyon roads, it is not that unusual to see a dead deer or coyote or raccoon along the side of the road, their death the result of collision with a vehicle. Have you ever see a cow on the road to Mammoth Mountain ski area or seen the results of a collision with one? Skiers from the city eager to get there
Friday after work, travel at 90 mph on highway 395, try to get there in four hours. They can get into horrible accidents with cattle on the road. There is a law of Physics that says, when you hit the cow at 90 mph, the cow hits you at 90 mph. A 1,000 pound bull coming at you at that speed can destroy your car and
injure you severely or worse, in such an accident. On PCH, a 200 pound Mule deer hitting your car at 90 mph can do some pretty severe damage as well, so watch out.
My wife and I were headed into the town of Kaunakakai on the island of Molokai one lovely evening a few years ago, when we saw what looked like the devil’s eyes on the road ahead. We had rented a very small car to get around this small island and were moving at high speed toward a Brahma Bull with an attitude on the roadway ahead. His eyes made great reflectors of our headlights. Some local farmer had not closed the gate. The bull was actuallybigger than our little Nissan and in fact was very defensive of his roadway, branishing some very big horns.
Several mountain lions have been killed as a result of vehicle collisions on our local mountain roadways. P-9 was hit and killed on Las Virgenes Canyon Road and P-18 was struck and killed on the 405 in heavy morning traffic.Other lions have been struck and killed on interstate 5 in the Burbank area, their dead bodies found at the side of the road.
The danger of death by SUV is only one of many threats to Mountain Lions here in the Santa Monica Mountains. In previous articles in this series, the threat of extermination by limiting the diversity of gene pool of local lions has been discussed. Lions interbreeding within family groups risk the threat of mutation due to lack of genetic diversity and their resulting lack of ability to compete. Only one lion, P-12 has made it across the 101 and bred with local females. Another lion, P-22 made it to Griffith Park but probably will not be able to breed there because there are no female lions.
The need to extend wildlife corridors across our freeways using wildlife overcrossings is apparent. Each year accidents in the US involving collisions with animals cost drivers billions of dollars. Other states and other nations have reduced these costs as a result of installation of multiple overcrossings. One of the
prime motivators for states like Colorado and Montana is to decrease the number of accidents involving deer and elk. Design competitions for freeway game crossings are competing for both federal and state funding.
Billions of dollars are spent each year on general freeway construction. California can easily follow the lead of other states and nations and put up its first wildlife crossing. CalTrans has produced a plan for the Liberty Canyon area which has been approved by a host of governmental and environmental organizations and is looking for funding. People are reluctant to spend money on wildlife crossings but CalTrans is ready to move for a variety of reasons.