• Stars appear behind a dramatic landscape of rocky mountains, rolling hills, and fields of grass

    Santa Monica Mountains

    National Recreation Area California

DNA Results from Dead Mountain Lion Highlight Need for Liberty Canyon Wildlife Tunnel

LibertyCanyon
The area surrounding the Liberty Canyon exit on the 101 Freeway is an ideal location for a wildlife crossing because it has natural habitat on both sides of the freeway and connects to vast areas of open space
National Park Service

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News Release Date: November 6, 2013
Contact: Kate Kuykendall, 805-370-2343

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Preliminary DNA results from the mountain lion killed last month on the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills indicate the lion was traveling from the north and was on the verge of bringing new genetic material to the isolated population in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

"The fact that this young male chose to cross – unsuccessfully – at Liberty Canyon shows how critical this wildlife corridor is for maintaining genetic diversity in the Santa Monica Mountains," said Dr. Seth Riley, an expert on urban wildlife with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA), a unit of the National Park Service. "This section of the 101 Freeway is the ideal path into the Santa Monica Mountains because of the natural habitat on both sides of the freeway and the connections to large areas of open space."

Wildlife advocates have long pushed for a wildlife tunnel crossing near the Liberty Canyon exit where this lion was struck and killed by a car. Caltrans has twice come up short in applying for federal transportation funding for the $10M project. Another round of applications is expected early next year.

Lions from the Santa Monica Mountains are hemmed in by freeways, the Pacific Ocean and the Oxnard agricultural plain, making the lack of genetic diversity a serious threat to their long-term survival. Working with the Robert Wayne Lab at UCLA and the Holly Ernest Lab at UC Davis, Riley and his colleagues have documented genetic differences in populations north and south of the 101 Freeway, as well as multiple cases of first-order inbreeding in which a father mates with his offspring.

Of more than 30 lions tracked during the decade-long National Park Service study, only one has successfully crossed the 101 Freeway. If this most recent lion had successfully crossed and mated, he would have brought new genetic material to the population south of the freeway. 

After spending the first year or so with their mothers, young male mountain lions typically disperse to new territory in order to avoid dominant males.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is the largest urban national park in the country, encompassing more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. It comprises a seamless network of local, state and federal parks interwoven with private lands and communities. As one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems in the world, SMMNRA preserves the rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities. 

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Did You Know?

Backbone trail hikes lead to views of mountains, canyons, and the Pacific Ocean.

Piece by piece, a trail is forging its way along the "backbone" of the recreation area. California State Parks took the first step toward a 65-mile Backbone Trail in 1978. With 5 miles left to go, single track trails and fireroads will unite this patchwork of public parklands from east to west.