The Highway Safety and Wildlife Protection Act would require Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to identify wildlife barriers and prioritize crossings when building or improving roads and highways .
By Laura Friedman, special for CalMatters
Member of the Assembly Laura Friedman represents the 43rd Assembly District.
Many of us have never seen a mountain lion up close and personal, but lions have a distinct presence among us. From security camera footage to social media posts of P-22 — Southern California’s famous mountain lion — you might think mountain lions are on the rise. You would be wrong.
Scientists fear that as their range and gene pool continue to shrink, cougars (as they are sometimes called) could be extinct within decades in the areas where they currently roam. Fast cars, rat poison and fragmented habitat are just a few of the deadly challenges facing mountain lions and other species at risk. When a lion known to biologists as P-54 was hit by a car and killed in June, his death marked three generations of mountain lions lost on treacherous roads in the Santa Monica Mountains. Her son had died months earlier and her mother died in 2018. A month later, P-89 died on the 101 freeway in Los Angeles, becoming the fourth cougar in the area to die in collisions with cars in five months.
This grim reality led me to join forces with Assemblymen Ash Kalra and Kevin Mullin to introduce Assembly Bill 2344, which would bring more wildlife crossings to our highway system. By prioritizing and investing in overpasses, underpasses and other essential improvements, we can make our roads safer for wildlife and drivers.
Butterflies, foxes, desert tortoises, California newts and other wildlife have lost their ability to move freely through their home ranges due to poorly planned roads and landscaping.
The UC Davis Road Ecology Center has tracked wildlife-vehicle collisions and identified hotspots on our highways. From 2016 to 2020, more than 44,000 crashes involving wild vehicles were reported on California roads, resulting in deaths, injuries and property damage. Wildlife strikes are thought to go largely unreported.
Earlier this year, I took part in the groundbreaking celebration in Agoura Hills of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which will be the largest wildlife bridge in the world when completed in 2025. Such a project should inspire us to do better in everything the state. Our bill, the Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act, would require Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to identify wildlife barriers and prioritize crossings when building or improving roads and highways. .
These projects can be as simple as upgrading existing culverts or installing directional fencing to facilitate the movement of wildlife. They may also include overpasses and underpasses in areas where animal-vehicle collision rates are high and the movement of species at risk is restricted.
Critical to this effort is having a protocol in place for state agencies to collect traffic crash data. We need to allocate resources intelligently so that we can prioritize the most dangerous roads and make them safer for motorists and wildlife.
I know my fellow parliamentarians believe that improving road safety is a bipartisan priority. In states that are ahead of California in implementing crossings, wildlife-vehicle collisions have been reduced by up to 98% in areas with crossings. Simply put, wildlife crossings work. The question is: are public safety and environmental protection worth the investment?
Our voters would say yes, because Californians love and appreciate our state’s rich biodiversity.
A UCLA-led study published earlier this year found that reproductive signs of inbreeding in Southern California mountain lions, including a 93% abnormal sperm count, are far more severe than believed. thought before. Without safe routes for these iconic cats, the maze of highways and sprawling development will only prolong genetic isolation and lead to local extinction.
It’s demoralizing to watch mountain lions decline knowing that wildlife crossings are an effective way to help them thrive. We should not sit on this knowledge and do nothing: we should make wildlife crossings a priority.
Laura Friedman once wrote about gun safety and Christine Blasey Ford.
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