Earth Day Groundbreaking for world’s largest wildlife crossing

Mountain lions and other species that live in the Santa Monica Mountains will soon be able to cross the 101 freeway safely with the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, a project that has been in development for more than 20 years from the National Park Service. When completed in 2025, it will be the largest corridor in the world.

On Thursday, April 22, hundreds of guests attended and tuned in to watch the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing Ceremony in Agoura Hills. Regional Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation, Beth Pratt welcomed the crowd that attended the ceremony in person and the ones watching at King Gillette Ranch. 

“This is not just an LA story, this is not just a California story, this is a story around the world, P-22, we did it,” Pratt said. “But we didn’t do it for P-97 and P-32, and P-104 and P-18 and I could be up here all day with the list, but we’re making the world safer for the rest of them and we are going to give this mountain lion a future.” 

The crossing will span all ten lanes of the 101 freeway at Liberty Canyon Road and is designed to give mountain lions and other animals a safe passage in and out of the Santa Monica Mountains. The crossing will be 165-foot-wide and sit 10 feet above the freeway. 

Organizations and institutions like the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Caltrans, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, among many others, were instrumental in discovering a solution to remedy this conservation crisis.  

Mayor of Agoura Hills Deborah Klein-Lopez reminded the participants about P-97, an 18-month-old male mountain lion that was killed on 405 in the Sepulveda Pass. 

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“We are here because we reached a milestone that is a result of years of commitment to environmental protection,” Klein-Lopez said. “While this is a very exciting and hopeful moment, yesterday’s loss of yet another mountain on Southern California highways is a reminder of how important and timely this work is.”

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is the largest urban national park in the country, encompassing more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. A unit of the National Park Service, it comprises a seamless network of local, state and federal parks interwoven with private lands and communities. As one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems in the world, SMMNRA preserves the rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities. 

“I just wanted to thank all of you who made a difference in bringing us on this journey preserving the lands on the Santa Monica Mountains, so that this crossing, our dream, can become a reality, because it does take a village,” State Senator Fran Pavley said.

Among those speakers included biologists and collaborators, Band of Mission Indians Elder Alan Salazar, California State Senator Henry Stern and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Every kid and every lion, and everyone in between has a right that is fulfilled but we need to fight for that because this would be a carpeteria, there would a prison back there and mcmansions over here but today we’re going to turn the page on something different,” Senator Stern said. “Thank you Wallis for making this happen.”

The crowd stood and applauded for Chairman, President & CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, Wallis Annenberg who attended the ceremony.

“We can share this earth, instead of claiming it and dominating, we can coexist side-by-side with all kinds of wildlife instead of paving it over and choking it off,” Wallis Annenberg said. “It’s about saving the mountains lions certainly and all the wildlife that calls Santa Monica Mountains home, but it’s about something bigger as well, it’s about restoring a sense of balance to our natural world and bringing more attention to an ingenious solution so urban wildlife and ecosystems like this one, can not only survive but thrive.”

The $87 million wildlife crossing is named for the Annenberg Foundation, a major financial contributor to the effort. It is being funded through a combination of private donations and government support.

“I do want to thank every single one of you all the remarkable leaders, I don’t talk about the elected officials, I’m talking about all of you leaders in your own right and helped advanced this cause will inspire young people and will inspire examples like all this across the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” Newsom said. 

The ceremony was also live-streamed on www.savelacougars.org. To watch the ceremony, visit “P-22 The Mountain Lion” on youtube

The overpass begins construction this month. For more information about the events or about the #SaveLACougars campaign to build the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing visit https://savelacougars.org/.

Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo is an inspiring photojournalist based in Los Angeles California. She began her journalism career at Pierce College Media Arts Department. Twitter @samanthavbravo

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