For local residents and visitors alike, Los Angeles can feel like a maze – a vast sprawl of neighborhoods intersected by a confusing tangle of freeways and overpasses. Now imagine how our local wildlife must feel trying to navigate these human constructed urban barriers while in search of safe habitat, food, and the increasing precious resource of water!
Lately, there has been a lot of news coverage about wildlife suffering because of inaccessibility across human infrastructure, whether it be declining populations of migrating monarch butterflies to the famously stranded local celebrity, P-22, the Griffith Park mountain lion. Various organizations have studied creating wildlife “corridors” and their positive effects on reconnecting wildlife populations to their natural habitat.
Last year I went to Banff National Park in Canada and got to see a wildlife crossing in person, one spanning across and underneath a freeway. In theory wildlife corridor connect vital habitats and allow safe passage across dangerous busy roads. I was curious whether they make an impact. Based on Parks Canada’s monitoring research, and in collaboration with other institutions, researchers discovered there was an initial learning curve animals had to overcome to begin using these crossings. It took up to 5 years before large animals like grizzly bears, elk, and deer felt secure enough to use the newly built crossings.
Researchers also discovered particular animals exhibited specific preferences for wildlife corridors: grizzly bears, elk, moose, and deer prefer high and wide crossings of shorter distances, while black bears and cougars prefer long, low, and narrow crossings. In time, these crossings have reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by more than 80% inside Banff National Park.
Can similar wildlife crossings be implemented in Los Angeles to provide safe movement for animals, especially in a city where rapid urbanization has taken a toll on Los Angeles wildlife?
The National Wildlife Federation and Santa Monica Mountains Fund have started a campaign to create a safe wildlife crossing across the 101 freeway in Agoura Hills. This crossing proposes to connect the Santa Monica Mountains of the south with the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.
Additionally, the UC Davis Road Ecology Center created a volunteer-based wildlife observation project inviting residents to submit roadkill observations. The data allows researchers to better understand the migration pattern of animals, and in turn, identify areas where a safe passage may be needed. Researchers believe with the current drought in California there may be an increase in the number of roadkill, as animals are putting themselves in greater risk in search for ever scarcer food and water sources.
So how can design help save wildlife?
Organizations like ARC (Animal Road Crossing) – an interdisciplinary partnership working to facilitate new thinking, methods, materials, and design solutions for wildlife crossing structures – is an example of design coming to the aid of wildlife. ARC began with the International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition in 2010 to engage innovative design teams of landscape architects, engineers, transportation, and ecological professionals to develop solutions for a next generation of wildlife crossing that would be cost efficient, ecologically responsive, safe, and flexible.
It will be interesting to see how Southern California reacts to effects of longterm drought on the local populations of wildlife which increasingly find themselves with nowhere to go.