Please, Fence Me In

Orange County roads may be a little safer for wildlife – especially mountain lions – if a proposed $3 million fence is erected on a stretch of freeway that’s known to be one of the deadliest critter corridors in the Santa Ana Mountain range.

The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency would give the final nod of approval for the proposed project which would fence in the first 2.4 miles of the 24 toll road from the 91 freeway to Santiago Creek Bridge. Construction on the other half of the fence would come later, making for a total of 5.3 miles of “lion prevention.”

The proposal would be considered in June of 2014.

In addition to the 10-12 foot tall chain link fences, other structures are being considered along the top of the fence to prevent animals – like agile mountain lions and deer – from climbing over them and potentially falling into traffic lanes.

The planned fences would encourage wildlife to be naturally funneled to cross the freeway in more protected paths – ones that are far away from zooming automobiles.

If the fences come to fruition, these wildlife fences may start a trend for other potential SoCal wildlife corridors. Caltrans has several Inland Empire-area fencing to protect wildlife, but not specially mountain lions. (Aside note: fencing for desert tortoises will be part of the construction along Highway 395 and Interstate 15 in San Bernardino County; wildlife undercrossings have been installed at Highway 71 in Riverside County as well.)

The proposal was the result of a 12-year study of the health and movement of mountain lions in the Santa Anas by the U.C. Davis Wildlife Health Center – the number one cause of death for big cats in the region was automotive strikes. Half of the 85 lions that were collared in the study that began in 2001 have died; nearly 60 percent were caused by humans. Seventeen of the big cats have been killed along the 241 since the study began.

Currently, there are estimated between 15-27 mountain lions in the Santa Ana Mountains.

In addition to the area near Santiago Creek Bridge, another hot spot for critter collisions is on the Ortega Highway.