California will build the largest wildlife crossing in the world Experts hope the bridge will enable mountain lions to find potential mates and increase the local population's genetic diversity. (National Parks Service/AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
California will build the largest wildlife crossing in the world
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A planned animal overpass is set to stretch over Los Angeles' 101 Freeway. It has entered its final design phase. That's according to Christopher Weber. He was reporting for the Associated Press. 

It's called the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing. The bridge is 200 feet long. It is on track. Building should start within the next two years. It is set to open by 2023. It should provide safe passage many wild animals. Those animals include lions. It includes coyotes. It includes deer. It incudes lizards. It includes snakes. They will all use the bridge.

The crossing will help Southern California's native wildlife. They will be able to move more freely. They will be able to roam the region's urban sprawl. That's according to Weber.

Animals hoping to cross the highway are at high risk of getting hit. That's without the bridge. Most are essentially trapped in the Santa Monica Mountains. They are unable to venture out. They can't search of food. And they can't find potential mates.

This means they have a limited geographic range. It poses a particular threat to mountain lions. A study was published in the journal Ecological Applications. It was published this March. It found that two isolated populations face extinction. These lions live in the Santa Ana and Santa Monica Mountains. These populations could disappear within the next 50 years. That's due to low genetic diversity. And it's due to mortality. These are linked with human activity. And they are linked to environmental changes. 

The Liberty Canyon overpass could curb mountain lion inbreeding. It can do this by connecting solitary big cats with other members of the species. It could reintroduce genetic diversity to local populations.

"When the freeway went in, it cut off an ecosystem," said Beth Pratt. She spoke with the AP's Weber. "We're just now seeing impacts of that." Pratt is a director. She works at the National Wildlife Federation's California branch.

Pratt adds, "They can't get out of here to get dates. And cats can't get in to get dates. ...For those of us in L.A., having a romance prospect quashed by traffic is something we can all relate to."

The bridge will cost $87 million to construct. Weber explains that 80 percent of the funds needed will come from private sources. The remaining 20 percent will be drawn from public funds. These are allocated toward conservation campaigns. Authorities said the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing will be the first of its kind built near a major city. It will also be the largest in the world.

The proposed design features a 165-foot-wide by 200-foot-long bridge. That's according to a #SaveLACougars. It will be constructed at the freeway's 33.0 mile marker. It will stretch across 10 lanes of highway traffic. The overpass will also include an extension. It will be above nearby Agoura Road. 

Avishay Artsy is from KCRW. He is on a local radio show. He said the crossing will strive to look like an extension of the surrounding mountainside. It will boast extensive plant cover. It will have sound barriers. And it will have light-blocking barriers.

Rob Ament is a road ecology program manager. He works at Montana State University's Western Transportation Institute. He spoke with Starre Vartan. He works at National Geographic. Ament said that under- and overpasses can reduce mortality rates. And it can reduce monetary costs. These costs are associated with wildlife-vehicle collisions. These will be reduced by 85 to 95 percent. 

Wildlife crossings were first introduced in France. This was during the 1950s. Similar crossings are popular in Europe. They are becoming increasingly common across the world. Cameras spotted the first wild animal to use an overpass. That happened last December. The overpass was built above Washington State's Interstate 90. California opened its first wildlife crossing in October. It was at a spot near Temecula. It is around 60 miles north of San Diego.

Southern California's most famous mountain lion is a male known as P-22. He is the poster child for the #SaveLACougars campaign. Pratt calls him "the Brad Pitt of the cougar world." 

He lives in a park. It is miles from the crossing. He likely won't end up using the bridge. But many of his relatives will. They will benefit from the bridge. That's according to AP's Weber. 

Lions rarely cross local freeways successfully. Martin Wisckol writes for the Orange County Register. He wrote about a 4-year-old male. It's called P-61. He made his way across the 405 freeway. He did so without any issues. This happened last month. 
P-22 made a similar journey. That was years ago. He crossed the 405 highway. And he crossed the 101 highway. This is how he got to his current home. It is in Griffith Park.

The cougar campaign's report shows that P-22's living situation is "less than ideal." He is now virtually trapped. He lives in the confines of the Los Angeles park. He is unlikely to be joined by a potential mate anytime soon. "Building a wildlife crossing will help other mountain lions avoid P-22's fate." That's according to the report.

Clark Stevens is an architect. He works for the Santa Monica Mountain's Resource Conservation District. He tells Weber that "ideally, the animals will never know they're on a bridge."

 "It's landscape flowing over a freeway. It's putting back a piece of the ecosystem that was lost."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What would your reaction be to seeing animals using the wildlife bridge? Why?
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