CALABASAS, Calif. — Construction on the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife CrossingIt has begun, and while bulldozers or diggers can be seen working along the 101 Freeway in New York, Katherine Pakradouni was already getting her hands dirty for several months.

“This is black sage,”She said it, spilling the contents from a small envelope into her hand and presenting thousands.

Pakradouni is the project’s nursery manager and, in a way, the future of the bridge pretty much lies in her hands. 

She spent months scouting the Agoura Hills site and the surrounding mountains, hand-harvesting purple aster seeds.

“I just literally like, boop!”She said this as she pressed the soft fuzz between her two fingers.

She has roughly 60 species collected so far and keeps meticulous notes, a map detailing where she’s collected, a spreadsheet listing the exact spot of earth through GPS coordinates. She’s careful not to deplete too many seeds from any one area and to cull from both sides of the future crossing. 

“Then that genetic mixing gets to happen across the bridge,” Pakradouni explained. “Just like we want to happen for the mountain lions, we were having that happen with the plants as well.”

The project will eventually consist of four terraces with fifty 12-foot tables that are covered in seedlings. Pakradouni had to plan far in advance, down to the soil she plans to enrich by ectomycorrhizal mushrooms. She’s got brown papers bags filled with what’s commonly called Dead Man’s Foot, which she admits, “generally looks like doggie doo,” but which will serve a tremendously important purpose — living in a symbiotic way with the coast live oaks that also will be planted at the site.

“So that we’re not only planting the plants that are meant to be here, we’re also planting their indigenous microbiota counterparts underground,”She spoke. “And that’s something that’s not being done in almost any other place. Especially not on a big project like this.”

The result will be a biodiversity magnet which will attract animals to the area.

“We’re going to be putting so much of their food source in that area that it’s going to teach them how to cross that bridge,” Pakradouni explained. 

Robert Rock oversees all of this. Living Habitats, LLCThe practice of landscape architecture and ecology is based in Chicago. He is a specialist in connectivity projects such as these that, he claims, need to be intricately layered.

“It’s funny, because when I talk about being a landscape architect, everyone, you know, goes to the green right away,”He said. “But really, for us, projects like this are about all those different layers melded together.”

He’s been connected to the project for around three years and says the groundswell of support for the project that he’s witnessed has been astounding. People have been interested in Liberty Canyon’s wildlife crossing. It has attracted attention from all over the world. The way they plan to allow flora to use the bridge is also a major part of this.

“Because it’s not just about adding some green fluff on top of the structure. It’s about connecting all the way through to the genetic level,”Rock pointed this out. “We’re establishing a new framework. We’re recreating this natural habitat. And the idea is to plug things back in, in such a way where they are self-sustaining, so that we’re recreating a space that will persist.”

He visited the site of the future crossing, not only the site where the seed nursery is located but also the site where it is located. Beth Pratt feels like everything is real now that the bulldozers have been at work moving the earth along the 101 south side. She spent the last decade moving heaven and Earth to make the bridge possible.

“I pulled up, and a bulldozer was going down a slope, which I couldn’t believe they were able to maneuver,”She smiled in front of the construction site. “It shows that even a freeway is not irredeemable!”

She said so far it’s been kind of minor work, relocating a pipe for instance, but added, “Get ready! The construction happening here is going to start being really noticeable!”

Pratt, who is the California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, led a group up a steep hike to the top of a nearby hill to get a bird’s-eye view of the site and a closer look at a camera that will be documenting the entire process with a time lapse as well as constant updates available on the Save LA Cougars website.

“I have it on my desktop,”She laughed. “I refresh it so frequently just to see things happening!”

As P-22’s biggest fan, she obviously loves the mountain lions, but she said the bridge is about so much more and that’s where the plant nursery comes in.

“It’s important that we actually put a robust native ecosystem on top of this bridge,” Pratt explained, “not just to convey animals over the freeway but to have animals living on it, monarch butterflies, lizards, you name it.”

Rock sees it another way, too, although he doesn’t like to say it in front of Pratt.

“For me, it’s so much more about the people that are involved,”He agreed. “It’s so much more about how this will serve Los Angeles as a whole and this community from now into the future.”

Pakradouni’s project is rooted in her roots. Although she casually refers plant names like asclepias fascicularis salvia leucophyllaShe stated that she chose botany because of her deep passion for animals. 

“That’s why plants became so important to me, because I realized how much the native plants are integral to the survival of animals,”She spoke. “Everything from the tiniest insect all the way up to the mountain lion is dependent on plants, because it either eats plants or it eats an animal that eats plants, or it’s an animal that eats an animal that eats an animal that eats plants. And so, all the way up the food chain, our mountain lions are dependent on these plants.”

She said that working on future wildlife crossings truly bridges her passions. It’s patient, meticulous, miniscule work, but when all is said and done, the bridge will have her fingerprints all over it.

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