The Santa Monica Mountains’ critically threatened mountain lions may be getting some help from help from Washington DC. A new bill, introduced by U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and U.S. Representative Don Beyer (D-V), would facilitate the designation of wildlife corridors on federal lands and provides grants to maintain wildlife corridors on non-federal lands.
The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019 is being described as one of the most significant steps towards wildlife conservation in decades. “The legislation would give authority to key federal agencies to designate National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands in order to create a comprehensive corridor network that would boost biodiversity, protect ecosystems, and help safeguard America’s most iconic species from a mass extinction crisis,” Beyer announced.
The bill would facilitate the designation of wildlife corridors on federal lands and provide grants to maintain wildlife corridors on non-federal lands. Private landowners would receive incentives to preserve wildlife corridors.
The bill would also establish regional wildlife movement councils and a National Coordination Committee to identify, prioritize, and fund on-the-ground projects supported by state agencies, tribes and local stakeholders. One of the projects already highlighted a priority is the wildlife overpass already planned for the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon that is intended to provide safe passage for wildlife, like mountain lions, between the Santa Monica Mountains and neighboring ranges.
An earlier version of the bill failed to pass when it was introduced last year. The 2019 bill was announced at the same time as a new United Nations report that found that as many as a million species of plant and animals are facing extinction, in large part due to habitat loss and fragmentation.
“Scientists are raising the alarm that we are almost out of time to save the planet as we know it,” Udall stated. “Widespread habitat destruction is leaving scores of animal and plant species both homeless and helpless. We must act now to conserve wildlife corridors that would save species and mitigate the mass extinction crisis we are rapidly hurtling toward.”
“With roughly one in five animal and plant species in the U.S. at risk of extinction, one of the simplest yet most effective things we can do is to provide them ample opportunity to move across lands and waters,” said Beyer. “The U.N. report on accelerating extinctions makes it clear that the window for action to protect the planet’s biodiversity is closing. We badly need to pass the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act.”
“Scientists and experts have sent us a warning, loud and clear: we must take bold action to safeguard the vitality and biodiversity of our planet in order to further our fight against the climate crisis. I’m proud to join my colleagues in this legislation to utilize our nation’s public lands to protect our nation’s wildlife,” said U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), one of the co-sponsors of the bill.
Fragmentation of wildlife habitat has been identified as a significant threat to wildlife across America.
The dwindling mountain lion population of the Santa Monica Mountains has become a rallying point for conservationists. The plight of P-22, the mountain lion who crossed numerous freeways from the Santa Monica Mountains to geographically isolated Griffith Park, an island of open space in one of the largest urban areas on earth, continues to attract international attention, making the big cat the poster child for wildlife corridors.
The non-profit National Parks Conservation Association, which is advocating for the bill, highlights its potential benefit for this area. “The National Parks Conservation Association commends the legislation for the benefits that it could provide to wildlife that travel beyond park boundaries such as [the] mountain lions in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA ),” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association.
Mountain lions aren’t the only local wildlife that could benefit. In the past three months, six bobcats, including a male that was part of an ongoing National Park Service monitoring program and a female who was lactating at the time of her death, have died after being struck by a vehicle in the Santa Monica Mountains.
It’s the second most common cause of death for bobcats in our NPS bobcat study area, second only to mange caused by rodenticide exposure.
Biologist Joanne Moriarty has been studying bobcats at SMMNRA for more than 15 years. She does not recall another period when this many bobcats have been killed by cars within such a short period of time, an NPS announcement states.
The National Wildlife Corridor Act is intended to help identify and designate key wildlife corridors. Supporters of the proposed legislation say it is a critically important step, one that they hope will lead to increased awareness and ultimately to support for wildlife crossings above or below roads that bisect those corridors, like the crossing proposed for the 101 freeway at Liberty Canyon.
“The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act would provide the most important step of any single piece of legislation at the present time in enlarging the nation’s protected areas and thereby saving large swaths of America’s wildlife and other fauna and flora, especially in this critical time of climate change and shifting locations of the original environments in which a large part of biodiversity has existed,” renowned biologist and author E.O. Wilson said of the bill.
The legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Jon Tester (D-MT). In the House, it is co-sponsored by Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL).