THE BRIDGE

4th grade rendition of wildlife crossing

 

An Interview with Clark Stevens, the architect who first conceived the idea for the wildlife crossing:

Taylor: What gave you the idea for the bridge?

Clark: 5 years ago, i was teaching a semester-long class in architectural and landscape design to college architecture students at Woodbury University in Burbank.  My design class subject was the santa susana field lab in the Simi Hills.  the field lab, now known as "Sky Valley" in honor of its Chumash and Rocket testing history, is a very important part of the wildlife habitat linkage connecting the Santa Monica Mountains with the Santa Susana Mountains and Los Padres National Forest.  I wanted the students to do a quick "warm-up" study at the beginning of the class, to introduce them to the concept habitat connectivity and wildlife corridors.  i had noticed that the Liberty Canyon area was the spot where the best habitat came close to the 101 freeway on both the north and south sides.  it is also the darkest area at night due to the limited homes and buildings in the area (check it out some night if you are up past your bedtime), which is important to animals that are active at night, which is the case for most mammals and especially for mountain lions.  also, the landfill in the area will eventually be closed, restored to natural habitat, and opened to wildlife.  so i had planned to have the architecture students design how a bridge could be built for the landscape to connect these two areas of habitat again.  

however, as i learned about crossing design in order to teach them i realized that it would be to large a project for the short time allocated in my class.  but a few years later, after a mountain lion that had come all the way from the San Gabriel Mountains was killed nearby while trying to cross the freeway, i learned that the Biologists studying mountain lions also wanted to make a crossing there.  although they wanted a tunnel, because they thought it would be easier to fund given that it would cost less than a bridge, i pushed very hard for the bridge instead.  i know that sometimes big, inspiring ideas are easier to make real than ideas that are smaller.  a famous architect named Daniel Burnham, designed the Chicago world's fair where the world's first Ferris Wheel was built.  Mr. Burnham once said:  "make no small plans, for they have not the power to stir man's soul"

Taylor: Why are you passionate for the cougars?

Clark: I am passionate about the Land.  the Land is the source of our being, and the source of our spirit.  the Land supports cougars and the rest of our "companion species", and it supports us humans, even if we don't always recognize our vital connection.   i think of the wildlife crossing as reconnecting a part of our Home Land that was severed when the freeway was built.  if you go to the site of the wildlife crossing, look at the hill on the north.  it looks like somebody cut off the nose of the mountain.  we are putting that mountain's nose back on its face!

Taylor: What can people build in their own homes to be more friendly to wildlife?

Clark:  one of the most important things you can do, if you live in the mountains, is to think of your backyard as habitat.  people often clear a large area around their homes so that nothing much grows thinking that this is the only way to protect from wildfire.  but in actual fact, groupings of plants and trees, with smaller spaces in between and under so that fire can not easily spread, can be a beautiful garden and also a home for wildlife.

 

but even if you live in the city, you can plant things that small wildlife, like butterflies and bees and birds can use as food, and homes.  these animals are called "pollinators" and plants need them to survive, just as much as they need the plants!  milkweed for example, is the only place a monarch butterfly can lay her egg that will feed her caterpillar, then host its chrysalis and eventually a new butterfly!  you can very the type of garden plants and habitats you have by using rain tanks and cisterns to capture the winter rain from your roof, so that it can be reused on the habitat types that need a bit of help in the summer to stay healthy.  with some leftover water from winter, a home can have a mini "riparian" (creek-like) habitat without using precious water during the dry season 

 

it is also very important to keep your night lighting to a minimum, and never use chemical rodent baits that can unintentionally harm larger carnivores.  keep your house snug and the outside free of food, and you wont have mice living in your house.  they do just fine outdoors but don't mind living with you if you invite them in and feed them.  that's not good for people or mice though, or the things that eat tasty mice.