Marking a major fundraising milestone that could prompt the start of construction on a wildlife crossing over the Ventura (101) Freeway in Liberty Canyon later this year, the California Wildlife Conservation Board donated $20 million toward the effort, organizers announced Thursday.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, the donation brings the board’s total commitment to $25 million, matching a $25 million challenge grant from the Annenberg Foundation. With that funding, the NWF’s #SaveLACougars campaign needs to raise just $6.5 million more to begin construction on the ambitious project by the end of the year, according to the federation.
“This is a huge step forward,” Wade Crowfoot, California secretary for natural resources, said in a statement. “Not only will Liberty Crossing be the largest wildlife crossing of its kind in the world, it is emblematic of the bold and creative solutions we need to protect California’s wildlife as our state continues to grow.”
The campaign has an overall fundraising goal of $85 million, with more than $72 million now in hand.
The wildlife crossing is expected to be the largest of its kind in the world, spanning 210 feet over 10 lanes of highway and pavement along with an access road, and is the first to be significantly funded through private donations along with public support, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
The wildlife crossing — which will include a landscape design that will blend the structure into the surrounding mountain habitat — will provide a connection between the small population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains and the larger and genetically diverse populations to the north and help to protect the endangered mountain lion population and other wildlife in the area.
Researchers have estimated that the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains could become extinct within 50 years without an influx of genetic diversity. The lions are largely isolated due to freeways that act as barriers to movement across the region.
“Time is running out for these mountain lions,” Beth Pratt, California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation and leader of the #SaveLACougars campaign, said in a statement. “All that stands between us and groundbreaking is $6.5 million. We hope other philanthropists will step us and get us past the finish line so these remarkable cats can have a future in the Los Angeles area.”
More information about the campaign is available at savelacougars.org/.