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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Nov 29, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelWe need wildlife corridors. Why? Because in the United States, an animal is hit by a vehicle every 26 seconds.

Predators need a lot of space. As an example, a male mountain lion needs at least 100 square miles to roam. This much space will provide him with enough game to keep him fed. He roams territory looking for deer (his primary food source). He also needs to find a mate. A female needs a minimum of 50 acres.

When animals live near urban areas such as Los Angeles County, they are sometimes trapped in habitat islands. This is when their habitat is surrounded by homes or businesses or freeways. They have nowhere to go. They need to migrate away from these islands to occupy new areas when there are food shortages, water shortages, or other natural resources that their habitat may be lacking. They also need to migrate due to seasonal changes.

If a population of animals such as the cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains cannot easily go from place to place, they will not be able to find mates outside of their family.

wildlifecorridor02Mountain lions here breed with brothers, sisters, mothers and daughters. There is very little biological diversity, and over time, this can be dangerous to the population. And with animals being unable to leave their habitat successfully, the fathers are killing youngsters.

One lion left the Santa Monica Mountains, having successfully crossed the 101 freeway, the 118 freeway, the 126 Highway, and then he was killed trying to cross Interstate 5 in Castaic.

For ease of migration, colonization and genetic diversity, we are desperate for corridors. And we have none. Liberty Canyon off of the 101 Freeway will be the first in our area. They will be building an overpass with vegetation on it to entice the animals to migrate from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Santa Ana Mountains. This is a great first step.

wildlifecorridor04I’ve spoken with Caltrans on numerous occasions about a corridor at the Weldon Bridge, which crosses over Interstate 5 south of Newhall. They are in favor of this idea, but it will take $12 million to $20 million to build it. Money is the factor. It’s why we have no corridors. It’s why animals and people are dying.

In the last three years, we’ve lost three mountain lions (one on I-5 at Calgrove, one on SR-14 at Placerita, and one on I-5 in Castaic). We’ve also lost a bear and lots of other animals such as bobcats, deer, coyotes, foxes, skunks and raccoons. If you add up all of the money that animal-vehicle accidents cost in property damage and deaths, you’re looking at $1 billion annually.

That’s a sobering thought: Wildlife corridors would also save human lives. Annually, 165 people in the U.S. lose their lives in vehicular-pedestrian crashes.

wildlifecorridor05Some animals will use culverts and underpasses to make a safe crossing, while other animals are too shy and too afraid to be in an enclosed tube, especially deer. Deer are more likely to cross a road or freeway if an overpass is covered with thick, native vegetation.

When animals are descending from the hills above a freeway, they look for a way to cross. If they see a vegged overpass, they will automatically head for that bridge to the habitat on the other side. If there is no crossing, they will either stay in their current habitat or take a chance of crossing the freeway, which is usually a deadly decision.

Many studies have been done with cameras documenting the success of corridors. Biologists also spend much time on the ground, looking for tracks and scat on one side of a corridor, then traveling through that corridor and comparing findings on the other side.

This is something you can do yourself. If you go to Vasquez Rocks and hike to the tunnel under the 14 Freeway, you can find prints on one side of the corridor and the same prints on the other side. We’ve seen bobcat, cougar, coyote and fox on both sides. This is a great learning experience for kids and adults alike.

It is clear we need corridors over every freeway in multiple locations. But this will take time and a lot of money that the state doesn’t have. In the meantime, there are some things that can be done with less funding:

1. When a freeway is built, make sure there are gaps in guardrails so wildlife is not trapped on the freeway.

2. Reduce speed limits in areas known for wildlife conflicts.

3. Increase sight distances where possible.

4. Use highway signage to warn motorists of possible conflicts.

5. Reduce habitat fragmentation by keeping natural corridors open and free of human conflict.

6. Use wildlife fencing to keep animals off of the freeway, or to guide them to an over- or underpass.

7. Clean out any debris from existing culverts and underpasses to make them more attractive to animals.

The solution is easy to see. We need corridors so that animals, particularly predators, can move from place to place unhindered.

wildlifecorridor01We have one of the largest natural corridors near Santa Clarita. It is the corridor that allows animals to travel from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Sierra Pelona Mountains. And from there, they can travel to the Los Padres National Forest, the Eastern Sierra and beyond. It is located at the eastern end of the city of Santa Clarita and goes all the way to Acton.

When animals leave the Angeles National Forest, they cross Soledad Canyon Road and then, if they don’t find the undercrossing at Vasquez Rocks, they have to make a quick run across the SR-14. If they survive, they are lucky. Animals usually cross at night when it is quiet and they are less likely to see a human.

wildlifecorridor07Wild animals and humans are not the only species to benefit from wildlife corridors. These natural areas channel little creatures, insects and even plants to migrate from one place to another.

America is behind the times when it comes to accommodating our wildlife. Montana has several crossings, as do Florida, Texas and Illinois. But there are corridors all over the world that are bigger and better than ours, and they keep people and animals safer. India, China, Russia, Europe, Canada and the Eastern Himalayas all have amazing corridors. In California, we have 15 underpasses and drainage culverts that were not intended to be used as wildlife corridors, but the animals found them and use them. Mule deer, mountain lions, bear, coyote, bobcat, small mammals and even reptiles use them to migrate.

Be aware when you drive on a freeway that a mountain lion or other animals could be running across the road at any time. Slow down and look around. Don’t be the next vehicular statistic.

Ask Caltrans to build corridors to increase safety for all. If a bond measure ever appears on the ballot, vote in favor of crossings. Talk with your local elected officials – city, county, state and federal. Send them letters.\

If enough people are bold enough to call or write a letter, we might yet get a corridor or two in our valley.



Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.



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  1. Megan Jayne Megan Jayne says:

    How can we as a community get this going..? Such a great and honorable investment for our wildlife and towns

  2. Yes! Great article and photos explaining how wildlife corridors work.

  3. This is ridiculous. Given a bridge to traverse over heavily traveled roads. You might have to put up signs so the animals can find the bridges. Or make laws against animals crossing roads so they use the bridges. You have to be kidding me.

    Almost as bad as this woman.

    • Megan Jayne Megan Jayne says:

      You obviously underestimate the intelligence and survival instincts animals naturally have.

    • Yeah believe me I have seen their intelligence splattered all over the highways.

      Don’t get me wrong I am an animal lover and first hand have a dog that can open a door using the door handle.

      I just see it as a waste of money. It may become a thoroughfare for some animals but it won’t stop animals crossing highways. That’s just rainbows and wishful thinking. Trying to feel good about ourselves without actual fixing a problem.

    • Amanda Moen Amanda Moen says:

      You sound stupid. They have these in Montana. You should do some research before you open your mouth.

    • Wow quick with the insults Amanda Moen. Thanks for that. Montana does have these and also still has a bunch of animals in vehicle animal collisions. So much so they have offered salvage permits so that you can salvage the meat of the delicious animal rather than have it go to waste. Montana Highway Patrol and some other law enforcement officers responding to the collision will have the ability to process a permit on site to get you and your new dinner on your way quickly. But yeah I make no claims to my intelligence. Mouth agape.

    • Linda Perez Linda Perez says:

      People need to slow down so that they can stop were deer are crossing. They are beautiful animals and they need to be protected

    • Amanda Moen Amanda Moen says:

      But look where the collisions are at in regards to where they have the bridges. They don’t have them though out the whole state. I’m not saying by any means that one bridge is a cure all but they are very affective. You make it sound like they serve no purpose.

    • Ok so I have to do research to prevent myself from sounding stupid? But you can’t even read the prior post?

      “It may become a thoroughfare for SOME ANIMALS but it won’t stop animals crossing highways.”

      Linda Perez.
      Be careful because it sounds like you haven’t done your do diligence and researched what you are speaking about. Amanda Moen may jump out and tell you how stupid you sound.

      Doesn’t matter how slow you go. Unless maybe you are walking. Have you ever seen a deer run?

      My point made clear.

      Guys on a bicycle.

      Deer are magnificent animals. The power they hold and the grace in which they use that power is amazing. I don’t hold a grudge Amanda but I do accept apologies.

    • Jesse Jordan Jesse Jordan says:

      You sound so so soooooo dumb, and I believe that is why no one is commenting on your post. Ignorance is impossible to reason with…

    • I know I have been trying.

    • William: Really? How would YOU attempt to “fix the problem”?

    • Never said I had the solution. Just said I didn’t believe this was it.

    • One bridge in 100 miles over a single highway doesn’t solve the problem and is a waste of millions of tax payer dollars. I love those trying to call the OP dumb yet no one backs it up with facts. I’m guessing it’s because of their lack of intellect or the lack of evidence showing the effectiveness of such bridges.

  4. This is a nice idea I’m sure- someone raise the funds to do it privately like animal rights activist groups. I think it’s ridiculous to spend this kind of money when there are people starving in the streets and children that don’t even have a home to call their own. Not to mention veterans laying their head on concrete every night trying to sleep with an empty stomach.

  5. Totally agree with you William Paul Trufitt!

  6. I think we need to deal with HUMANS being hit at crosswalks before we invest in saving vermin!

  7. Javi says:

    This gets the win for “Stupidest Use of Public Funds ever”

    We should be using/raising funds for eradicating homelessness in Santa Clarita and the greater Los Angeles area.

    I cannot understand for the life of me how people are brainwashed into placing the value of animals over HUMAN LIFE.

    Where do people come from? Please do us all a favor and GO BACK THERE.

  8. Javi says:

    …where do YOU people come from?**

  9. As long as groups like Humane Society, Peta, , and Sierra Club 100% pay for building and maintaining them. They should use their funds for positive projects not anti hunting and fishing campaigns- and 6 figure exec salaries too

  10. Anonymous says:

    I like it

  11. Ossim Dawn Ossim Dawn says:

    in this photo the animals are crossing from wild place to wild place. we dont need the animals crossing the freeways INto our neighborhoods. we want them to go towards the wild. Where in the world would SCV need one

  12. Canada has wildlife corridors. Great idea!

  13. They presume much…only works if the animal happens to be roaming directly at the bridge. The animals are going to go wherever the heck they want. You would have to put up fences all along the roadway except where the bridge is located, assuming they don’t leap over the fence (coyotes can jump 6-7 feet over fences). Stupid idiots.

    • Amanda Moen Amanda Moen says:

      They have these where I live and they are very effective. You should do some research before you start name calling. Makes you sound silly!

    • Per the California DOT: “State Route 76, San Diego County
      Five wildlife crossings and DIRECTIONAL FENCING were installed as part of the SR-76 Melrose to Mission Highway Improvement Project in 2012. A wildlife movement study, including road kill surveys, camera station surveys and tracking transect surveys, is underway to determine the effectiveness of the crossings and fencing. A review of the data collected to date suggests the COMBINATION OF DIRECTIONAL FENCING AND WILDLIFE CROSSINGS may be limiting vehicle-wildlife collisions and allowing for wildlife movement across SR-76. Medium-to-large species using the wildlife crossings include the badger, bobcat, coyote, raccoon, striped skunk, desert cottontail and opossum”. But overpass crossings only work for certain animals…others prefer culverts and underpasses, so the bridges wouldn’t prove effective for all species. Hmmm…maybe somebody else should be doing THEIR research, “silly”…

    • Lisa Campbell —–Like or not, You and I both know there is Nothing you (or anyone) can do about. Any Government Bureaucracy, whether Federal, State, Or Local, is under No Obligation, what so ever, to listen to, or accept input from the Public. They Never have, and in all probability, Never will. After over 200 years, nothing has ever been to stop Government Bureaucracies, it’ s extremely unlikely it will Ever be done! It’s an aspect of All Modern Societies—You just have to live with it.

  14. Lora Hill Lora Hill says:

    And who is paying for that bridge?

  15. Hey, I got an idea. How about solving REAL problems?? -_-

  16. Why would scv need one of these , some people freak out when they see a coyote and that’s all i see around here , besides the usual raccoon , skunk or opossum , scv is growing like a weed , soo much building going on , what little wildlife there is will disappear soon enough ,

  17. This is stupid. It would just be a huge waste of the taxpayers dollar. How about we try to solve some actual problems that we are facing.

  18. Matthew Kelly says:

    This is a dumb idea.

  19. jimvs says:

    I was going to post a comment on this article. And then I read the day’s comments already posted.

    My comment was that this issue has been in discussion for over 30 years. Attempts have been made to reduce wildlife vehicular deaths, but there was never enough funding for it to be effective. Other budgetary issues have always taken precedence. That means that “The People of California” have spoken. That’s right, your elected representatives couldn’t or wouldn’t fund the very things that the writer is talking about.

    That shouldn’t be a surprise; nothing in this article is new. Unless you are talking about the pending closure of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument access. And that is something that none of us were able to vote on.

    Well, I posted it anyway. Not because I think it will engage peoples thoughts and cause them to consider the issue. Some of you will hate what I said, others will agree. But I doubt that it will engender any serious discussion.

  20. Tessa Lucero says:

    I think it is a great idea. Give the wildlife a way to cross between the San Gabriels and the Santa Susanas. I think two crossings would be needed, though — one at Weldon Canyon, as the article suggests, and one across the 14 just north of the Newhall Pass.

    And yes Ossim Dawn we do have deer in Santa Clarita, though not many in the city itself. I’ve seen deer on the bike path near the Trestles bridge (east of Magic Mountain Parkway), on the Beast, the trail that goes up the mountain from the south end of Newhall Avenue, and off Whitewater which is east of Sand Canyon.

    For the record, deer tend to use the same trails all the time, so if you put the crossing bridge near the deer trail they will be more likely to use it. And if you’ve seen a car that has hit a deer, you know why it’s a good idea to keep the deer off the road if possible. My daughter’s friend had the front end of her car completely destroyed when she hit a deer one night. She was lucky she wasn’t hurt.

  21. Frank Marion says:

    My idea is to contact out national political representatives and get them encourage legal measures to a take away(Or decrease)some of the money we give to foreign countries annually(regularly). For,just one example, we give Pakistan about 2 billion a year and from what I observed they are not our friend.Time doesn’t allow me to give ALL the reasons by text.But just ONE reason…… we could not inform them ahead of time about our Asama Bin Laden raid…….or they would have tipped him off and he would not have been here when we went in on the raid.
    We could use a good portion of the money we give away on projects like Dianne discussed,road and bridge repair,etc.

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