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  • Author: Lee Rosenberg
  • Publication Date: January 29, 2024
  • Focus Species:

Many of us fondly recall the crossing guards who ensured our safety on the way to school, but sadly, wildlife lacks such guardians on the roads. The absence of protection leads to devastating consequences for animals, as illustrated by the recent loss of a nursing mountain lion and her cubs on I-280 near Burlingame.

The tragic incident on I-280 highlights not only the toll on wildlife but also the financial impact of vehicle collisions. According to a 2021 report from the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, collisions on the 31-mile stretch between Cupertino and San Bruno cost $5.8 million annually.

A 2014 study revealed a concerning decline in genetic diversity among mountain lions in certain regions, influenced by human development. This genetic bottleneck poses a threat to fertility rates and the overall sustainability of populations.

In a positive turn, the construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing above Highway 101 near Liberty Canyon Road brings hope for California's mountain lions. This expansive wildlife bridge aims to reconnect natural landscapes bisected by one of the nation's busiest highways.

Another encouraging development is the Laurel Curve wildlife tunnel on State Route 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where a mountain lion was recently documented. These initiatives showcase a commitment to creating safe passages for wildlife.

Governor Gavin Newsom's signing of the Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act on September 30, 2023, marks a significant legislative stride. The act mandates the identification of barriers to wildlife movement, prioritizing crossing structures in road construction and improvements.

J.P. Rose, Policy Director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Urban Wildlands program, emphasizes, "This legislation is proof that public safety and wildlife protection can go hand in hand." Locally, organizations in the North and East San Francisco Bay Area are actively working to identify and remove barriers to mountain lion movement.

One such initiative is Felidae’s PumaLink Project, which employs advanced research methods to map and model habitat suitability and connectivity. Collaborating with the Conservation Biology Institute, Conservation Society of California, CuriOdyssey, and Save Mount Diablo, the project aims to facilitate wildlife connectivity while collecting data to inform evidence-based conservation strategies.

The PumaLink Project also investigates the absence of mountain lion sightings around Mount Diablo despite suitable habitat. Alys Granados, Felidae’s wildlife ecologist explains “Mount Diablo has quality habitat, but it is surrounded by freeways and urban areas. PumaLink will identify key linkages to Diablo, which will benefit mountain lions and other species, and contribute to the park’s biodiversity”. Through ongoing research, the goal is to uncover reasons behind this phenomenon and develop solutions to connect Mount Diablo with wildlife habitat in the East Bay, contributing to sustainable mountain lion populations.

In conclusion, these efforts underscore the intersection of public safety and wildlife conservation, paving the way for a harmonious coexistence between humans and California's magnificent mountain lions.

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