Have you ever heard of P-22, the legendary mountain lion who roamed the hills of Los Angeles for over a decade? Sadly, this beautiful big cat met his untimely demise after being hit by a vehicle and found injured in a backyard.
This heart-wrenching story is not an isolated incident in California, as the state has seen a steady toll of mountain lions being killed on its highways. In the last eight years, there have been 535 reported cases of mountain lions killed on California roads – a rate of one to two each week.
This has raised concerns that the rate of mountain lions being killed by cars may be surpassing their reproductive rate, leading to increasingly isolated and inbred populations.
According to Fraser Shilling, Director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, the “undisputed capital of freeways and car culture” in Southern California is a dead end for mountain lions.
The data collected from CHP, Caltrans, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and UC scientists, was merged into a geographic information system to produce a statewide map of lethal collisions between 2015 and 2022.
The majority of the strikes were found along stretches of highways and freeways that reach beyond major population centers, including Southern California, the Bay Area, Central Coast, and the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada range.
The good news is that the annual number of roadkills involving mountain lions has shown a slight downward trend, while the amount of vehicle traffic remains unchanged. For instance, in 2022, 77 mountain lions were killed by vehicles, compared to 92 in 2017. This could suggest that as the number of mountain lions decreases in a given area, the likelihood of a collision decreases. However, every time a mountain lion dies on the road, it’s a tragedy.
Vehicle strikes, urban encroachment, rat poison, inbreeding, and wildfires are contributing to what scientists call an “extinction vortex.” There is a 1 in 4 chance that mountain lions could become extinct in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains within the next 50 years.
To address this issue, California is taking action. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is working to identify and prioritize wildlife movement barriers and develop plans for wildlife crossings. One example is the $87 million project currently under construction over a 10-lane stretch of the 101 Freeway near Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills. Other dangerous stretches include I-5 over the Tehachapi Mountains, I-15 near Temecula, State Route 91 in Orange County, State Route 74 through Santa Rosa Mountains, and I-8 in San Diego County.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act into law, which received bipartisan support and requires Caltrans to identify barriers to wildlife movement and prioritize crossing structures when building or improving roads. This is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to protect these beautiful creatures from becoming roadkill.
It’s time for us to take action and help save California’s mountain lions. We can start by slowing down and being more cautious when driving, especially in areas known for wildlife crossings.
We can also support wildlife conservation organizations and advocate for policies that prioritize the protection of wildlife. Together, we can make a difference and ensure that mountain lions, like P-22, can roam freely and thrive in their natural habitats.
This article by Nicholas Vincent was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 6 February 2023.
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