The Safe Highways and Wildlife Protection Act would require Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to identify barriers to wildlife and prioritize crossings when building or improving roads and highways.
By Laura Friedman, special to CalMatters
assemblyman Laura Friedmann represents the 43rd Assembly District.
Many of us have never seen a puma up close and personal, yet lions have a distinctive presence among us. From security camera footage to social media posts by P-22, the famous Southern California cougar, you might think cougars are thriving. You would be wrong.
Scientists fear that as their range and gene pool continue to shrink, pumas (as they are sometimes called) could be extinct within decades in the regions where they now roam. Fast cars, rat poison and a fragmented habitat are just a few of the deadly challenges facing cougars and other endangered species. When a lion known to biologists as P-54 was struck by a car and killed in June, his death marked three generations of cougars lost on dangerous roads in the Santa Monica Mountains. His son had died months earlier and his mother died in 2018. A month later, P-89 was killed on the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles, becoming the fourth cougar in the area to be killed in a car crash in five months.
This sad reality has led me to join forces with the members of the Assembly kalra ash Y kevin mullin introduce Assembly Bill 2344, which would bring more wildlife crossings to our highway system. By prioritizing and investing in freeway overpasses, underpasses and other critical improvements, we can make our roadways safer for wildlife and drivers.
Butterflies, foxes, desert tortoises, California newts, and other wildlife have lost their ability to move freely through their ranges due to poorly planned roads and development.
the UC Davis Center for Roadway Ecology has been tracking vehicle collisions with wildlife and identifying hot spots on our roads. Between 2016 and 2020, more than 44,000 wildlife vehicle crashes were reported on California roadways, resulting in human deaths, injuries, and property damage. Strikes with wildlife are believed to be largely underreported.
Earlier this year, I joined the inaugural celebration in Agoura Hills of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which will be the largest wildlife bridge in the world when it is completed in 2025. This project should inspire us to do better across the state. Our bill, the Safe Highways and Wildlife Protection Actwould require Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to identify barriers to wildlife 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 wildlife movement. They can also be overpasses and underpasses in areas with high rates of vehicle collisions with wildlife and where the movement of endangered species is restricted.
Establishing a protocol for state agencies to collect hit-and-run data is crucial to this effort. We must be smart in allocating resources so that we can prioritize the most dangerous roads and make them safer for motorists and wildlife.
I know my legislative colleagues believe that improving highway safety is a bipartisan priority. In states that lead California in implementing crossings, vehicle collisions with wildlife have been reduced by up to 98% in areas with crossings. Simply put, wildlife crosses work. The question is: Is it worth the investment in public safety and environmental protection?
Our constituents would say yes, because Californians love and value our state’s rich biodiversity.
A UCLA-led study published earlier this year found that the reproductive signs of inbreeding in Southern California cougars, particularly a 93% abnormal sperm rate, are much more serious than previously thought. Without safe routes for these iconic cats, the maze of highways and uncontrolled development will only prolong genetic isolation and lead to local extinction.
It is demoralizing to witness the decline of pumas knowing that wildlife crosses are an effective way to help them thrive. We must not sit on that knowledge and do nothing: we must make wildlife crossings a priority.