OPINION: Highway 101 wildlife corridor could make LA County a beacon of conservation

An aerial view of the plan for the overpass.
(Courtesy: Clark Stevens)

The largest wildlife corridor in the world is slated to be built across Highway 101 in Agoura Hills, with the groundbreaking set for January 2022. The project, run by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), will set an example of restorative conservation at state, national and global levels. In a critical victory for environmentalists, this wildlife corridor will provide a safe crossing space for animals over a highway on which an estimated 300,000 cars travel each day

The National Wildlife Federation has been working on this project for over a decade. When a road, especially an eight-lane freeway, divides an ecosystem in pieces, it creates two new ecosystems with one sharp edge. This edge affects both plants and animals, and weakens genetic diversity by dividing populations. 

One key species that has become the face of this groundbreaking corridor is mountain lions — one of the most vulnerable species in the country — such as poster child P-22, who now resides in Griffith Park but has been seen dangerously crossing the 101 and 405 freeways. As a keystone species, strengthening the mountain lion (also known as cougar) population will have rippling positive effects for other local animals such as coyotes, mule deer, rabbits and even insects and vegetation. Wildlife corridors are a key way that we, as humans, can make reparations to wildlife for our invasion and infringement upon their habitats. 

Wildlife corridors have been around since mid-century and are increasingly popular in Europe, while the U.S. has lagged behind. They have been shown to be successful, especially with deft architectural design that allows the crossing to blend into the surrounding landscape and includes noise and light-blocking barriers. These crossings have been shown to dramatically reduce roadkill occurrences while increasing genetic diversity by reconnecting the two (or more) populations stranded on either side of the roadway. With this incredible proposal, Los Angeles County could become, in a surprise twist, a trailblazer for environmental conservation. 

In many ways, Los Angeles County seems the most unlikely place for conservation success, which is why this project is so impactful — if LA can do it, anyone can. This is a story to watch as it finally breaks ground — advocates have been fighting for this for 10 years—this winter. This project has garnered $72 million dollars of private funding and significant political support. This is proof that the public values protecting animals and their habitats — if only governmental institutions would be bold enough to listen and take action toward these ambitious endeavors. 

With the projected reparation of the surrounding wildlife, conservationists should use this shining new example as ammunition to push for corridors around the country. These structures are one of the most successful tools we have for repairing the broken patchwork of habitats we have left in the wake of our shortsighted development, especially on the fringe of urban landscapes, where the lines between wilderness and urbanity blur the most for local animals. This wildlife corridor should spark hope in the conservation community — it sets a higher bar for urban restoration.  

Willa Frank PO ’25 is from Cambridge, Massachusetts. She enjoys petting every dog ever on Marston Quad and professing her love for New England to no one in particular. 

Facebook Comments