The fundraising campaign to create a wildlife crossing over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills said it has reached a pivotal $18 million mark, thanks in part to a new $1.4 million gift from a private La Cañada Flintridge donor.
The anonymous LCF donor has given a total of $2 million to the project, the largest donation yet, helping to make the groundbreaking for the overpass a reality — likely in November, organizers said Wednesday.
Officials with the National Wildlife Federation’s #SaveLACougars campaign said the wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon is unprecedented in many ways. It is the first urban crossing of its scale, and upon completion, will likely be the world’s largest crossing and will serve as a model for urban wildlife conservation across the globe. The crossing is intended to save the local population of mountain lions from extinction, and is being funded largely from private donations.
The local donor said she honed a personal interest in the lives of wild animals back in 1970, when she and her late husband first went to East Africa. At home in LCF, their backyard acreage has hosted most kinds of suburban wildlife: squirrels, rabbits, bobcats, coyotes, skunks, common and rare birds, an occasional possum and raccoon, and one stag, she noted.
“There is always something to look at, sometimes quite extraordinary,” she said in a statement.
Her interest in the crossing began with reading about the project: “I had long followed articles in the [news] about the fatalities of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains trying to cross the freeways that define their living spaces. In 2018, an article reported that Caltrans was working on a design for a freeway overcrossing at Liberty Canyon, but that it would not be financed by the annual budget of Caltrans. So, I wanted to contribute to help make this a reality.”
The total raised by the campaign to build the crossing is a large-scale public/private partnership, with a core project team of the Liberty Wildlife Corridor Partners: Caltrans, the National Park Service, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservatory, Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority, the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains and the National Wildlife Federation — along with local and state elected officials.
Beth Pratt, California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation and leader of the campaign, praised the generosity of the woman, and all the private donors.
“The incredible support of people from around the world has allowed us to advance this project from a visionary idea to an impending reality,” she said, adding that Caltrans will have the crossing blueprints completed this summer, and if fundraising remains strong, construction will break ground in November.
“As someone who has spent a lifetime protecting wildlife, I am inspired by people like this anonymous donor who answer the call,” she said. “Her donation — the largest from a private donor to-date for the project — advances the crossing significantly. Her incredible legacy — and the legacy of all who donate — will be preventing the extinction of these magnificent mountain lions.”
Officials with the campaign have said that in addition to saving the mountain lions from likely extinction, the crossing will also reconnect a long-fragmented ecosystem for all wildlife in an area recognized as part of one of only 36 biodiversity hotspots worldwide.
“The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority are excited to enter this last critical phase in making a safe passage for wildlife across the 101 and delivering on 30-plus years of work to preserve habitat linkages,” said Rorie Skei, chief deputy director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
The crossing also has been hailed as a major green infrastructure project for the state of California, with construction generating jobs in the region and bringing economic benefits into the future.
To learn more about the #SaveLACougars campaign or to donate, visit savelacougars.org.
— City News Service contributed to this report.