2016-08-25 / Community
A story of survival
Book details L.A. mountain lions’ urban plight
Local animals and the people who love them were the guests of honor at last Sunday’s launch for “When Mountain Lions are Neighbors,” a new book by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, director of the National Wildlife Federation.
The event was staged at the Mountain Mermaid, a historic retreat high in the hills of Topanga.
Pratt-Bergstrom read passages from her book, and National Park Service biologist Jeff Sikich presented information about the plight of landlocked mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. The animals need a safe way to cross the 101 and 405 freeways so they can expand their territory, he said.
The proceeds from the book will go toward the proposed $55-million Liberty Canyon wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills. Construction of the vegetated passageway is expected to start in 2020.
Published by Heyday Books, Pratt-Bergstrom’s book details how a variety of wildlife is experiencing a resurgence in California due to conservation efforts; it also talks about the plight of mountain lions stranded in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The most famous of them P-22 (the P stands for puma, another name for mountain lion) — was well-represented at the party. The animal traveled from Topanga State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains to the heart of Los Angeles in Griffith Park and has become a symbol of the movement for urban dwellers to coexist with wildlife.
To get to Griffith Park, P-22 had to cross two freeways, including the 405, but how he made it to the park alive is not known. What is known is that other cougars have attempted to cross the 101 and the 405 freeways and either changed their minds or died trying.
Sikich took Pratt-Bergstrom on a tour of Griffith Park to show her how animals thrive in the city.
“It’s in the middle of Los Angeles. It was the moment of an epiphany,” she said.
Pratt-Bergstrom said Californians seem willing to coexist with wild animals.
“We need to make room for them in our spaces or they won’t have a future,” she said.
Pratt-Bergstrom, Sikich and others will retrace P-22’s route to Griffith Park from Oct. 16 to 22. A public festival celebrating the cougar will be held at the conclusion of the hike.
What really gets Pratt-Bergstrom’s imagination soaring are signs, or hope, that wolves and grizzly bears might return to California one day. Wolves crossed over from Oregon to California in 2011 — something that hadn’t happened in 90 years. Since then they crossed back into Oregon. About 50 wolves have settled just north of the California border.
“Wildlife is coming back,” she said.
Sikich, a biologist in charge of the Mountain Lion Study Update since 2002, said cougars are an important part of the ecosystem.
The proposed wildlife corridor in Agoura Hills would allow the wildcats to connect to the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains, he said, but also expand their territory and genetic diversity into the Los Padres National Forest that extends to central California.
There are 53 collared mountain lions that are being tracked to collect data on their eating habits, how far they travel and what roads they cross.
The study also tracks the reproduction rates of the cats.
The 101 Freeway is a huge barrier to the movement of mountain lions, Sikich said.
“They use every square inch of their natural habitat,” including cemeteries and parks.
Closed territory is not the only threat mountain lions face. Rat poisoning has killed some cats and made others ill.
Sikich said the poisoning of wildlife is a progression, ending with the cougar that kills the coyote that ate squirrels that were poisoned by somebody using rodenticide on their property.
Old Agoura resident Kathi Colman was selected by Pratt- Bergstrom to paint the 53 local wildcats for the wildlife federation.
Colman will sell the art to raise funds for the wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills.
For more information, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.