Mountain lions will soon be able to cross one of California’s busiest freeways in safety, if the state gets a $2 million grant it is now seeking to build a special bridge for the big cats across U.S. Highway 101 as it runs through the western suburbs of Los Angeles.
While mountain lions have occasionally been killed by cars as they attempt to cross the freeway in Agoura Hills, California, scientists say the main reason to construct the new mountain lion bridge is to allow mating to keep the local population of mountain lions healthy.
The most recent death of a mountain lion in the area due to a collision with a moving vehicle came last October. The state’s transportation agency, CalTrans, believes that building the bridge will reduce the number of accidents involving mountain lions and other wild animals that live in the area west of California’s most populous city.
But biologists also say that with no safe route across the 101, mountain lions have been inbreeding for years, fathers mating with their own daughters, a trend that causes the population to become vulnerable and perpetuates any genetic defects.
“If animals can’t disperse out, you may be more likely to get close inbreeding, and we’ve seen a number of instances where fathers have mated with daughters,” said Seth Riley, a biologist with the National Park Service.
In fact, the most recent litter of mountain lion cubs born in the wild, west of L.A., to be observed by scientists was the product of mountain lion incest.
According to Riley, the litter resulted when one male mountain lion managed to make it across the 101 freeway alive, where he mated with a female on the other side of the eight-lane superhighway.
But the same mountain lion later mated with one of the female cubs from the resulting litter, and the female then bore another litter of which the male mountain lion was both father and grandfather.
CalTrans officials said on Saturday that they hope to obtain a grant from the federal government’s infrastructure funding program for about $2 million to cover the cost of the mountain lion bridge. The price tag had originally been estimated at $10 million.
“The new crossing will better integrate the environment and transportation systems, fostering better wildlife connectivity on either side of the 101 and increasing public safety by reducing the risk for collisions between vehicles and wildlife,” said Caltrans official Carrie Bowen.
The bridge, she said, should make the section of U.S. 101 west of Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills a safer place for both motorist and mountain lion alike.