As Mountain Lions Suffer, Caltrans Seeks $2 Million for Overpass

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Santa Monica Mountain Lions Feeding

An isolated gene pool has threatened the population of mountain lions living in the Santa Monica Mountains, leading Caltrans to request $2 million for access areas advocates believe would promote larger habitats and genetic diversity. 

The initial request for the TIGER grant requires $2 million for the design and engineering phase of a future wildlife path, crossing over U.S. Highway 101 at Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills, according to a press release from Caltrans. 

The Santa Monica Mountains provide enough land for approximately one or two male lions, according to ecologists with the National Park Service at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.  

Inbreeding among the lions is prevalent as the lions in the region are completely secluded from other lands by highways and developments which prevents opportunities for genetic diversity. 

Since 2009, only one lion has been documented successfully crossing over two highways into a new mountain range, according a recent study published in Current Biology

Scientists genotyped 42 of the lions and discovered genetic diversity prior to 2009 was lower than that for any population in North America except for Florida, according to the article. 

The study also reports mountain lions suffer inbreeding depression, which leads to reproductive failure. Aggression among the animals is growing and more cases are being documented, including males killing their offspring.

The grant is included in a larger project called The TIGER program, which began as part of the Federal Recovery Act.

2014 TIGER grant awards are expected to be handed out later this year.