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This Bear May Have Crossed Two Freeways To Get To The Santa Monica Mountains

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(Photo from the National Park Service)
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A black bear has been spotted wandering around the Santa Monica Mountains, and researchers aren't quite sure how it got there.

National Park Service employees discovered on Tuesday photographic evidence of a black bear roaming the region. The photos, dated July 26, were taken from two camera traps set up in Malibu Creek State Park to monitor wildlife.

As noted by the National Park Service in a release, the spotting is "extremely rare." Black bears can be found along the north end of L.A., which includes the San Gabriel Mountains. But they are seldom found south of the 101 freeway. And in fact the Santa Monica Mountains have not had a resident bear population since the 1800s, after grizzly bears were wiped out from the state. The last grizzly spotted in California was in Sequoia National Park in 1924.

Zach Behrens, senior communications fellow with the National Park Service, told LAist that researchers don't know how the bear had arrived at the Santa Monica Mountains. He said that one possibility is that it had originated from the Santa Susana Mountains, moved south, crossed the 118 freeway, passed through Simi Hills, then crossed the 101 freeway to finally get to the Santa Monica Mountains.

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Our mysterious bear is a looker. (Photo from the National Park Service)
Is the sighting of the bear a sign of migration trends? "It would be very premature to draw conclusions," said Behrens. "There would need to be more research." Bear experts don't have a lot of material to work with in the Santa Monica Mountains. As mentioned before, it's very rare for black bears to be spotted south of the 101. One of the few other sightings happened in 2014, when a black bear was spotted on the 101 freeway in Thousand Oaks. Unfortunately, the bear was struck and killed by a vehicle on an off-ramp in Westlake Village.

These incidences draw attention to a need to improve "habitat connectivity" between the Santa Monica Mountains and neighboring regions. Behrens says that the Santa Monica Mountains is almost like an "island habitat" because it's bordered by freeways to the north and the sea to the south. There is evidence that mountain lions have been inbreeding in the area because they've been trapped in; this has lead them to have "some of the lowest known genetic diversity anywhere in the west," says National Park Services. In rare instances, however, the mountain lions are able to escape their confines; L.A.'s most popular mountain lion—P-22—is believed to have arrived from the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park by crossing the 101 and 405 freeways.

To improve habitat connectivity, there is a proposal for a wildlife crossing to be built by Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills. And, in fact, National Park Service researchers have cameras out at Liberty Canyon, and they'll be checking the cameras to see if the aforementioned bear may have crossed that area to get into the Santa Monica Mountains. Hopefully we'll see more of this intrepid traveler.