World's Largest Wildlife Corridor to Be Built in California
Earlier this month an obscure Los Angeles area regional public lands agency—the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority—announced the first stages of a five-year plan to build one of the largest wildlife corridors in the world. The goal is to create a natural looking bridge that will allow a small cougar population in the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area the chance to escape north into much larger public lands, while at the same time allowing northern mountain lions the chance to move south and help out the badly inbred and lethally infighting Santa Monica cougars.
Although a young female from the Santa Monica Mountains, P33, did successfully cross Highway 101 in March this year, her escape north is a rare event. Photo credit: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
The proposed bridge will leap over Highway 101, an eight-lane, east-west freeway in LA’s northern suburbs that sees 175,000 car trips a day. The bridge will be built at Liberty Canyon in the suburb of Agoura and when completed will be 200 feet-long and 165 feet-wide. It will be landscaped to blend in with the brushy hills and sound walls along the edge of the bridge will “mitigate traffic noise and block light in order to make the crossing more conducive to wildlife,” says the project study report. The bridge will extend beyond the 101, reaching over an access road south of the highway, necessitating the construction of a tunnel. Estimated cost of the entire project: about $57 million.
Despite the report’s dull bureaucratic language—mountain lion sex is blandly described as “the exchange of genetic material"—at its heart the proposed Liberty Canyon wildlife corridor represents an astonishing effort to reverse decades of suburban sprawl and fragmentation of the region’s surviving open spaces.
The campaign’s iconic poster boy is the famous “Hollywood lion,” also known by its wildlife ID number, “P22.” In 2012, P22 crossed two major freeways and migrated roughly 40 miles from the Santa Monica Mountains along the coast to Los Angeles’s 4300-acre Griffith Park on the city’s eastside. There he took up residence, feeding on the park’s mule deer and soon became a national celebrity of sorts.
P22, the only young male from the Santa Mountain Mountains to escape death, is not considered an example of successful dispersal because he will never breed. Photo credit: Crystal / Flickr
Beth Pratt was one of P22’s earliest and most ardent fans. Pratt, the California executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, was fascinated by the lion’s story and contacted wildlife biologists studying the Santa Monica Mountains cougars. One of those biologists was Dr. Seth Riley, who from 2002 to 2012 led a National Park Service team that trapped some 42 cougars: 26 from the Santa Monica Mountains, five from the Santa Susana Mountains north of 101 and the rest from throughout the region. All of the cougars were fitted with GPS transmitting collars. The cougars trapped north of 101 mostly survived. But the 12 young males from the Santa Monica Mountains did not make it. They tried to disperse, going right up to the edges of the region’s freeways. Four who tried to cross died in the effort. Five who turned back were attacked and killed by older male lions. One was shot by police; one died from unknown causes.
The only young male from the Santa Mountain Mountains to escape death was P22—and he is not considered an example of successful dispersal because he will never breed. “The [Santa Monica Mountains] are a population sink,” the park service’s Riley concludes. “The Santa Monica Mountain cougar population is not going to survive in the long run. For mountain lions, there is only room for ten-ish adults. That’s not enough genetically or even demographically. One male hit by a car and one killed by rodenticide and poof, you’re done.”
Beth Pratt became taken with P22 as an icon for all the trapped lions. “I’m a shameless marketer,” she admits. “I saw how P22 could be the absolute poster child. People just love him. Once people get focused on his specific story—the lonely bachelor—you can talk about mountain lions in general.”
For Save LA Cougars’ campaign image, Pratt chose a photo of P22 taken by Steve Winter that appeared in the December 2013 issue of National Geographic. Winter used trail cams equipped with infrared and motion detectors to photograph P22 at night as he hunted in the Hollywood Hills. Pratt picked a photo of P22 facing the camera and appearing relaxed, not at all like a powerful predator. This facial portrait became the model for a tattoo on her left shoulder.
The full body shot of P22 was then adapted for the campaign as a cardboard cut-out. Comedian Rainn Wilson of Soul Pancake fame introduces a YouTube video by saying, “My good friend and homeboy P22 is stuck in Griffith Park!” A montage of clips shows P22 in a convertible, standing on a swimming pool float, riding a kayak down the LA River and taking the merry-go-round in Griffith Park. He’s even become a cartoon character. “You have to anthropomorphize ,” Pratt argues. “It’s not a bad thing. You want people to relate, to have day-to-day relationships with animals. Otherwise, we won’t save them.” At the same time, she worries about her portrayal. “The cat is thinking, ‘What is Pratt up to now?’ He’ll eat me someday.”
A full body shot of P22 has been adapted for the Liberty Canyon wildlife corridor campaign
as a cardboard cut-out. Photo credit: Elizabeth Rose-Marini
Save LA Cougars has already raised $1 million and needs to raise and additional $3 million by April 2018 to pay for a detailed project design and environmental reviews of the proposed bridge for wildlife. Once these documents are completed, the project is considered to be “shovel ready” and eligible for federal funding. A major lobbying effort by the region’s political leaders to help fund the project is anticipated.
P22’s celebrity stature makes the proposed Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing a perfect LA story. But this isn’t just about the glamour of charismatic megafauna. Wildlife advocates say the campaign to fund and build the wildlife corridor is essential to bring attention to a second and less famous, trapped cougar population in the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange and San Diego counties, to the south.
Chris Basilevac , director of the Nature Conservancy’s land protection program in Southern California, explains: “That [proposed] crossing has lands already protected on both sides of the 101 freeway. If they can pave the way there with Caltrans [the California highway agency] and other sources, that helps our chances a lot to make it happen down here.” Basilevac has worked for 11 years buying land along a major north-south corridor, Interstate 15, in the hope of creating a regional network of crossings for mountain lions and other animals.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” Basilevac says of his efforts to purchase lands. In Orange and San Diego counties, he says, “only a small percentage of the sellers are conservation-minded.” Basilevac deals mainly with investors who bought parcels (about 15 to 100-acres in size) as investment properties and are looking for profits. If they bought at the height of the last real estate boom, their property is often appraised at less now. According to its bylaws, the Nature Conservancy cannot pay more than appraised value. “It’s really a matter of trying to make them an attractive offer. Sometimes we ask them to sell at less than appraised value and try to find a way to make it up, say by making a charitable contribution as a tax write-off.”
A concept design of the proposed wildlife overpass above the 101 Freeway near Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills, Los Angeles. Photo credit: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Exactly which lands Basilevac and the Nature Conservancy target for buying is informed by the research of wildlife veterinarian Winston Vickers. Vickers works as a UC-Davis based researcher under contract for the Nature Conservancy and several Orange, San Diego and Riverside county transportation and public lands agencies. Vickers and his associates track mountain lions in the Santa Ana Mountains (which run north-south) and the eastern Peninsular Ranges (which run east-west) and intersect the Santa Ana’s near Temecula, in south Orange County. From early 2001 through Dec. 2013 Vickers’s team captured and radio collared 43 lions in the eastern Peninsular Ranges east of I-15 and 31 in the Santa Ana Mountains west of I-15.
Not a single cougar of the 43 collared in the eastern Peninsular Range successfully crossed I-15 to the west into the Santa Ana Mountains during the entire 13-year study. Among the 31 lions tracked in the Santa Ana Mountains, only one, M86, was found to have genes that originated among the eastern cougars. Although three of his descendants are still alive, that’s not enough to overcome the Santa Ana cougars’ genetic bottleneck and isolation. Thus the small population of lions in the Santa Ana’s—no more than 17 to 27 animals at any given time—suffers from the same crisis as do the Santa Monica Mountain cougars. The annual survival rate for that population is even less—56.5 percent. Unless the I-15 can be fitted with underpasses or bridges of some kind, then the Santa Ana Mountains population is “at risk for demographic collapse,” says Vickers.
While Basilevac negotiates with landowners along I-15 to buy land for wildlife corridors, Vickers and his team try to keep the Santa Ana mountain population alive by reducing the high number of animals killed each year crossing the 241 toll way along a stretch of public lands in Orange County. They are building a 11-13-foot-high, 7-mile-long fence to keep cougars and their prey, mule deer, from crossing the toll way and instead channel them into a few underpasses.
When I met Vickers and his assistant, Jamie Bourdon in August, they were fitting Bushnell Trail cameras to the telephone poles at what are called “jump-out” ramps—places where animals who somehow get onto the toll way can jump back into the hills. Jamie wore a White Panther Party t-shirt complete with a pouncing panther logo, a design from the late 1960s. At the time, the White Panther Party was founded as a far-left, culturally revolutionary companion to the Black Panther Party. In 2015, Bourdon’s t-shirt serves the same function as Pratt’s tattoo—a statement of totemic kinship.
While Bourdon stood on a ladder and began to focus the infrared and motion-detector triggered cameras, Vickers bent over at the waist, dangled his arms and shuffled up and down the earthen ramps, performing what was in essence a ritual “deer dance.” No doubt both men saw the dance in the service of science, necessary to aim the trail cams and accurately record which animals used a ramp to escape. But no one from a hunting-gathering society would be confused: Vickers’s deer dance honored the mule deer and their cougar predator.
The intense scientific monitoring and the sophisticated engineering behind the fences, underpasses and bridges is but the physical embodiment of an important cultural change. In Southern California, wild dreams are being acted out in the effort to boost the cougar’s chances of survival. The conservation efforts symbolize that if we let the mountain lions die on the freeways and in their confined territories, then we will also lose part of ourselves.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Independence Day weekend is a busy time for coastal communities as people flock to the beaches to soak up the sun during the summer holiday. This year is different. Some of the country's most popular beach destinations in Florida and California have decided to close their beaches to stop the surge in coronavirus cases.
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- COVID-19 Masks Are Polluting Beaches and Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- No Social Distancing or Mask Requirement at Trump's Mt ... ›
- Trump's Fireworks Show at Mt. Rushmore Is a Dangerous Idea, Fire ... ›
For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.
What Is PTSD?<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">PTSD</a> can occur when someone is exposed to extreme exposure traumatic experience. Typically, the trauma involves a threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Along with war veterans, it happens to refugees; to victims of gun violence, rape and other physical assaults; and to survivors of car accidents and natural disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes.</p><p>PTSD can also happen by witnessing trauma or its aftermath, often the case with <a href="https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd" target="_blank">first responders</a> and <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-many-faces-anxiety-and-trauma/202006/invisible-wounds-the-frontline-heroes" target="_blank">front-line workers</a>.</p><p>All this adds up to tens of millions of Americans. Up to 30% of combat veterans and first responders, and 8% of civilians, <a href="https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/epidemiology.asp" target="_blank">fulfill the diagnostic criteria for PTSD</a>. And that criteria is not easily met: symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive trauma memories, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of reminders of trauma, negative emotions, and what we call "hyperarousal symptoms."</p>
Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
- 4 Ways Acupuncture Helps Restore Balance to the Body - EcoWatch ›
- Why Can't Veterans Get Medical Marijiuana for PTSD When People ... ›
Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs, warns a year-long inquiry into Australia's "most loved animal." The report published by the Parliament of New South Wales (NSW) paints a "stark and depressing snapshot" of koalas in Australia's southeastern state.
- First Koalas Rescued From Bushfires Returned to the Wild - EcoWatch ›
- Koalas Found 'Massacred' at Logging Site - EcoWatch ›
- Koalas Become 'Functionally Extinct' in Australia With Just 80000 Left ›
- Koalas Face Extinction Threat After Wildfires: New Report - EcoWatch ›
By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
- New Climate Study: Most Severe Warming Projections Are Now the ... ›
- 7 of the Best New Documentaries About Global Warming - EcoWatch ›
- What's in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change in the Eyes ... ›
To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
- Climate Crisis Brings India's Worst Locust Invasion in Decades ... ›
- Climate Crisis Made Australia's Historic Wildfires at Least 30% More ... ›
- 4 Climate Crisis Solutions No One Is Talking About - EcoWatch ›
- Top Government Scientist Transferred After Questioning Trump ... ›
- Trump Admin Manipulated Wildfire Science to Encourage Logging ... ›
- NOAA Officials Backed Trump's False Dorian Claims Under Threat ... ›
- Coronavirus and the Terrifying Muzzling of Public Health Experts ... ›
- 'Science Under Siege' From Trump Admin: New Report Warns We ... ›
More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›
- 'Heartbreaking' Vulture Poisoning in South Africa Raises Alarm ... ›